Markus Haluk (center), executive director of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), sits with over 100 activists and sympathizers of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) in the compound of the Jayapura police headquarters on Nov. 19. The KNPB, a Papuan peoples' organization, was set up by local NGOs a decade ago. They were subsequently detained by police ahead of a scheduled public discussion commemorating the KNPB's 10th anniversary. (Photo supplied by Ones Suhuniap)
Over 100 pro-independence activists were arrested on Nov. 19 in Jayapura, the capital of Indonesia's Papua province, as they were celebrating the 10th anniversary of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB).
The KNPB was established in 2008 by a group of NGOs to give the public a platform on which to campaign for political, social and other issues.
The group was formed in December 2014 as an umbrella organization uniting three movements seeking independence for West Papua.
Police and military personnel detained Haluk and the others at a student dormitory in Pegunungan Bintang Regency, where they were planning to hold a public discussion to commemorate the KNPB's decennial.
They were released in the early hours of Nov. 20.
Gustav. R. Urbinas, the chief of police in Jayapura, told ucanews.com they had been apprehended so they could all be properly identified and the reasons for their public gathering clarified.
He said police would continue to crack down on any activities in the region considered potentially treasonous.
"As the chief of police for Jayapura I am obliged to know about the goal of such activities," he said.
"I must dismiss anything that is against the national interest. This was one of a number of illegal activities held by an organization that is not registered with the Political and National Unity Office," he told journalists, referring to the KNPB.
All large organizations in the country must register with their local chapter of the Political and National Unity Office, known as Kesbangpol, as the constitution obliges the government to manage their rights and obligations in the interests of peace and order.
Currently there are over 390,000 such organizations registered with the Kesbangpol.
Prior to the crackdown on the planned public discussion, police raided the KNPB's secretariat in Waena village and seized two banners advocating the pro-independence movement.
The authorities also took a printer, a T-shirt bearing the motif of the Bintang Kejora (morning star) independence flag, and an unlicensed motorcycle.
Ones Suhuniap, a national spokesperson for the KNPB, said the police damaged the secretariat's facilities and destroyed meals that had been prepared for consumption during the public discussion.
"They acted like thugs," he told ucanews.com.
Referring to the planned discussion, he said the aim was to reflect on the KNPB's journey over the past decade and plan activities for the coming year.
"We have always asked the police for permission [for such activities], but they reject our petitions every time," he said. "So there's no point asking for permission, as the answer is always the same."
He said the KNPB has been fighting peacefully for the right to have a say in politics and the right to self-determination, adding the latest spate of arrests has "educated us about how we need to press the fight in a more mature way."
Father Neles Tebay, coordinator of the Papuan Peace Network, called the police's response an attempt to stifle people's freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.
"I would have thought such an assembly would have been fine so long as they didn't pose a threat to [national] security," he told ucanews.com.
"They said it was just a public discussion, even if they harbor different political aspirations from those upheld by the police and military."