An armed Indonesian policeman stands guard near a burning building after hundreds of demonstrators marched near Papua's biggest city Jayapura in this Aug. 29 file photo. Indonesia has deported four Australians after they were spotted at a protest in the city of Sorong on Aug. 27. (Photo by Indra Thamrin Hatta/AFP)
Indonesian authorities have deported four Australians for allegedly taking part in a pro-independence protest in West Papua province last month, according to an Immigration Department official.
Tom Baxter, 37, Cheryl Davidson 36, Danielle Hellyer, 31, and Ruth Cobbold 25, were deported on Sept. 2, Ujo Sujoto, acting head of the department’s Public Relations and General Affairs Desk said.
They were kicked out of Indonesia a day after National Police Chief Tito Karnavian claimed “an international network” was involved in recent violent protests in Papua and West Papua provinces.
He said more than 6,000 police and military personnel from across Indonesia have been deployed to the provinces since the protests erupted on Aug. 19.
At least 62 people have been arrested and charged with burning and destroying public buildings during the protests.
Intermittent violence has gripped the Papua region for about two weeks following the earlier arrest of 40 students in Surabaya in East Java province.
During the arrests the students were allegedly tear gassed and had racial slurs shouted at them.
Media reports say police and bystanders called them “monkeys, dogs and pigs” during their arrest.
The four deported Australians were seen allegedly protesting outside the mayor’s office in Sorong City in West Papua on Aug. 27, during which the outlawed “morning star” flag was raised.
Pro-independence groups in the Papua region see the flag as a symbol of freedom.
Cun Sudiharto, who heads the Intelligence and Law Enforcement Division at the Sorong Immigration Office told media that the decision to deport the Australians, who arrived in Indonesia on a yacht, was made after they were questioned by police.
They claimed they became caught up in the disorder after being told by local people that the protest was a Papuan cultural festival, Sudiharto said.
Augustinian Father Lewi Ibori, chairman of Manokwari-Sorong Diocese’s Commission for Justice and Peace called the Indonesian authorities’ actions too heavy handed.
“We need to look at the case thoroughly,” he told ucanews.com.