Six West Papuans are to be charged with ‘subversion’ after peacefully raising the banned West Papuan independence symbol, the Morning Star flag. The protest took place in the town of Fakfak, which is 550 miles to the west of the capital, Jayapura.
Thirty-five local Papuans took part in the flag raising ceremony in the early hours of the morning of July 19th. The police attacked demonstrators, beating and kicking them. Forty-one people were arrested, including those who had not taken part in the protest. The men in the group were forced to strip to their underwear before being taken to the police station. Two women were also arrested. Survival fears for the safety of those detained, as torture in police custody is widespread in West Papua.
Reports from the region suggest that six will be charged under the Indonesian criminal code relating to subversion and overthrowing the government. They could be charged with plotting a coup, which carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
The arrests indicate a crackdown in West Papua, and follow detentions during similar peaceful protests in the towns of Timika, Manokwari and Jayapura, since December last year. West Papua has been occupied by Indonesia since 1963, and the Indonesian army has a long history of human rights violations against the Papuan tribal peoples.
Paula Makabory from the Institute for Papuan Advocacy & Human Rights has called for the detainees to be released, saying, ‘It is not credible for the Indonesian police to charge these people on that basis of ‘subversion’. Performing a flag raising ceremony and protesting against Indonesian authority is not an act which could overthrow the government. The demonstration was peaceful and such political expression should be a democratic right in West Papua and Indonesia.’