Students protest the Indonesian government's plan to develop new administrative areas in the country's easternmost Papua province on May 10, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
At least 20 people were injured when police used batons, water cannon and tear gas to disperse hundreds of people who joined rallies in Indonesia’s restive Papua region on the 61st anniversary of an agreement that made the region part of Indonesia.
The US-brokered 1962 New York Agreement allowed Indonesia to annex the Christian-majority region after the end of Dutch colonial rule.
Riot police attacked peaceful demonstrators in three locations near the provincial capital Jayapura, on Aug. 15, alleged Emmanuel Gobay a Catholic and official of the Papua Legal Aid Institute.
The demonstrators called on the international community to review the agreement and take action to end ongoing violence and repression in the region.
"In fact, they only held peaceful demonstrations," Gobay who joined one of the rallies UCA News.
He stated that more than 20 people were beaten, with one of them later being treated in hospital.
"One person was seriously injured and was immediately transported to the hospital for treatment," he said.
Videos and photos obtained by UCA News showed police attacked with water canons and fired tear gas when people were listening to speeches from leaders of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), the protest organizer.
Gobay said that though the authorities view the KNPB as a separatist group "they should have the right to express their opinion" as guaranteed in the nation’s constitution.
"Moreover, they submitted an official letter notifying police about the program beforehand," he added.
He slammed the use of water cannon and tear gas on demonstrators.
These should only be for anarchic demonstrations, "not peaceful demonstrations," he said.
He alleged that police committed criminal offenses by torturing and beating protesters, and called on the Papuan police chief to immediately prosecute the perpetrators so that there is a deterrent effect.
Father Bernard Baru from the Jayapura Diocese's Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission said that this repressive action was a repetition of the discriminatory treatment of Papuans by the state.
“In Papua, police actions like this are considered normal. This only deepens discrimination against Papuans," he said.
Police officials were not available for comments.
KNPB spokesman Ones Sahuniap issued a statement to condemn the police brutality and claimed those who were beaten suffered serious head injuries and bled profusely.
Suhuniap said the police used rattan and batons to beat and break up the demonstration.
The KNPB simultaneously held demonstrations in Papua and in other parts of Indonesia, asking the United Nations to review the 1962 New York Agreement.
During the rallies, KNPB leaders called the New York Agreement “a violation of human rights of Papuans” sponsored by Indonesia, the Netherlands and the United States and the United Nations.
As per the agreement, later added to the agenda of UN General Assembly, the Netherlands agreed to transfer the control of West Papua New Guinea to Indonesia, pending an UN-administered referendum.
The Papuans were not party to the agreement and it paved the way for the 1969 Act of Free Choice, an independence referendum favoring Indonesian rule in Papua was largely known as a sham.
Indonesia’s annexation of Papua and use to force to crush dissent sparked an armed separatist movement.
Thousands of civilians, soldiers and rebels have been killed and tens of thousands have been displaced due to the conflict in the easternmost region in the past decades.