Two pro-independence activists were arrested in Indonesia’s restive Papua province for holding “anarchic protests”, national police said Friday.
One of those arrested was Bukhtar Tabuni, head of the West Papua National Committee, who had left prison last year after serving three years for organizing a 2008 rally, national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar said.
Tabuni was arrested on Thursday in the city of Abepura along with another activist, Jefri Wandepbud.
“The men were arrested in relation with anarchic protests” by the West Papua National Committee, Amar said.
He said the group is suspected of organizing protests in recent months that have left shops, public facilities and a university campus in several Papuan cities badly vandalized.
Pro-independence rallies and displaying separatist symbols are considered treason in Indonesia, and protests in Papua have ended in bloody clashes with police.
The West Papua National Committee denied it was responsible for any violence and said on its website that the police were using the group as “a scapegoat.”
Tabuni was jailed in 2008 for organizing a protest to support the International Parliamentarians for West Papua, a pro-independence pressure group of international lawmakers launched in the British parliament that year.
Indonesia in 1969 took control of the Papua region — a former Dutch colony on the western half of New Guinea island — after a vote widely seen as a sham.
Jakarta keeps a tight grip on Papua, with the military regularly clashing with locals. Foreign journalists are restricted from reporting freely in the region.
More than 170 people are imprisoned in Indonesia for promoting separatism, most of them from Papua or the Maluku islands in eastern Indonesia, according to Human Rights Watch.