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Indonesia

Indonesia police arrest dozens at rallies in Papua

Gatherings called to support secessionists' move to join Melanesian Spearhead Group

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Indonesia police arrest dozens at rallies in Papua

Police arrest Papuan activists in Jayapura on Thursday morning (Photo courtesy of Oktovianus Pogubau)

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Police arrested at least 71 members of the pro-independence West Papua National Committee (KNPB) during two peaceful rallies on Thursday in Wamena of Jayawijaya district and Jayapura, the provincial capital of Papua.

“Forty-six activists were arrested in Jayapura. Five of them suffered serious injuries after being hit by police when they were giving speeches at the entrance to the University of Cendrawasih,” Victor Yeimo, chairman of KNPB, told ucanews.com.

“One was hit in the head by a rubber bullet,” he added.

In Wamena, 25 activists were arrested as they were about to start their rally, he added.

The rallies were to show support for the application by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) to join the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

The MSG is an intergovernmental organization comprising the states of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu, as well as the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front, a political party from New Caledonia

“What happened clearly shows that promises given to us are nothing but empty words,” Yeimo said.

“The president recently released five Papuan political prisoners, but such arrests continue,” he said.

President Joko Widodo granted clemency to several political prisoners on May 9 during a visit to Papua.

Oktovianus Pogubau, who attended Thursday’s rally in Jayapura, said the police moved in almost as soon as the rally started.

“The activists were speaking. Suddenly the police came and started to hit them,” he told ucanews.com.

Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said Widodo "has to tell his own police commanders not to criminalize peaceful speeches".

"It sends the wrong message if the police keep on arresting peaceful protesters in Papua," Harsono added.

However, Brigadier-General Andogo Wiradi, deputy for data analysis and strategic information in the Presidential Office, said the arrests were part of an investigation.

“Such arrests by police often happen, not only in Papua, but elsewhere including Jakarta. Some people are arrested at protests. They will be released if no crime has been committed,” he told ucanews.com.  

Asked about the alleged heavy-handed approach used by police to make the arrests, he said past acts of violence meant that police had to be careful.

“There have been cases in which some police personnel and soldiers have been shot dead. So the police were very cautious,” Wiradi said.

Poengky Indarti, executive director of the Jakarta-based watchdog Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial), said the situation in Papua has become more sensitive since the ULMWP’s application to join MSG.

“Ordinary people support the move. On the other hand, the authorities see as an attempt to make the security situation unstable,” she told ucanews.com.

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