The police have released 13 Papuans who were arrested on Tuesday as they held a peaceful rally to celebrate the 48th anniversary of the pro-independence Free Papua Movement, the Papua Police chief said on Thursday.
“We have released them and have urged them instead to engage in dialog, on the condition that they will not hold illegal rallies. We have evidence against them for holding a rally without a permit,” Brig. Gen. Bekto Suprapto said.
According to authorities, members of the riot police made Tuesday’s arrests as they dispersed up to 40 activists who had gathered in the provincial capital Jayapura carrying posters of the banned Morning Star flag, a symbol of Papuan independence.
Supporters of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) celebrate the Dec. 1 anniversary of the Netherlands’ 1961 recognition of Papua’s right to self-rule. Indonesia incorporated the vast, resource-rich territory in 1969 after a UN-backed referendum held among a few hundred tribal leaders.
Agustinus Isir, a Papuan public figure, said on Thursday that rallies were held across the province on Dec. 1 in spite of the governor’s ban on “mass mobilizations.” The issue of Papuan self-rule, he said, will not fade with time and activists will continue to seek a dialog with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Another public figure, Simon Morin, echoed Isir’s comments.
“We want to safeguard unity through dialog focusing on nationalism,” he said. “This will strengthen our mutual understanding.”
Usama Yagobi, a human rights activist in Papua, said the province continued to be a tinder box of tension. Antipathy between indigenous Papuans, settlers and security forces has been a fact of life in Papua since it was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969. Much of the conflict, he said, stems from a perception of prejudices and injustices committed by authorities.
“An international dialog is a peaceful way for Indonesia and Papua to learn about the problems felt by Papuans, such as human rights violations, restrictions to freedom of speech and policies that are not beneficial to Papuans,” Usama said.
Under Indonesian law, anyone who wants to hold a protest has to inform the police about the issue in question, the time of the protest, its location and the number of people who will take part.
There were no major incidents reported in Papua or West Papua on Tuesday.
In Jakarta on Tuesday, dozens of Papuans demanded independence at a peaceful rally outside the Presidential Palace as police stood guard.
The protesters carried a red banner reading, “Give back the sovereignty of the West Papua nation.”