Activists say detentions taking place during rallies calling for independence referendum
Indonesian police have been accused of arresting more than 1,000 people at rallies in West Papua demanding an independence referendum.
Part of Indonesia’s easternmost Papua province on New Guinea island, West Papua is ethnically distinct from the rest of the country and was annexed by Indonesia in 1969. Many Papuans consider the takeover to have been an illegal land grab.
The government and police did not officially acknowledge the arrests, which activists said had been taking place since Wednesday. The Guardian was unable to independently verify the reports.
The Jakarta Post newspaper quoted an unnamed officer from the local Jayapura police headquarters who confirmed that some arrests had been made.
“Yes, they are under examination,” the officer was quoted as saying.
In May, 1,500 protesters were detained in what activists said was the largest mass arrest during Indonesia’s democratic era, which started in 1998. At that time, the police acknowledged the detentions, saying they had been made because the rally organisers did not have the necessary permits.
Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, has visited Papua – formerly known as Irian Jaya – and released political prisoners in an attempt at appeasement. He has said he will travel to Papua three times a year.
Many West Papuans, however, accuse the Indonesian military of abuses over several decades. More recently, residents have questioned the objectivity a fact-finding mission led by Indonesia into human rights abuses in the region.
The Netherlands retained Papua after Indonesian independence in 1945, but Jakarta moved into the region in 1962 and formally took over seven years later after a referendum that was widely condemned as having been fixed by the Indonesian government.
The West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda, who fled to the UK in 2003 and was granted political asylum, said in a statement this week that “while our demonstrations were entirely peaceful, the Indonesian police were determined to use brute force to crush them. Such mass arrests and brutality are becoming increasingly common in West Papua and it is estimated that in the last two months, nearly 3,000 West Papuan people have been arrested by the Indonesian authorities.
“My people cannot be silent while our fundamental human rights continue to be crushed, violated and denied to us by this brutal occupying colonial power.”
The map in this article was amended on 17 June 2016 to more accurately reflect the local geography.