JAYAPURA, Jul 15, 2021, RNZ. Fresh demonstrations by West Papuans have again been stopped by armed Indonesian police who arrested dozens of people, Radio New Zealand reported.
The demonstrations are the latest in a series of protests by West Papuan students, churches and customary representatives opposed to the Indonesian government’s plans to extend Special Autonomy provisions in the two Papuan provinces.
Many West Papuans claim they have not been involved in consultations about Special Autonomy, while police have repeatedly prevented public discussions about the issue in some parts of Papua region.
Yesterday, three student-led demonstrations were held in the Papua provincial capital, Jayapura, before armed police arrived and forcefully stopped the mobilisations. Several Papuan students from the University of Cenderawasih in Jayapura were injured.
As well, police arrested 23 students and activists with the Petisi Rakyat Papua group, an organisation with 112 civil society, student, customary and church representatives that has been co-ordinating public mobilisations in relation to Indonesia’s plans for Papua.
The demos were held as Indonesia’s lawmakers in Jakarta this week proceeded with ratifying their plans for Papua’s new Special Autonomy provisions
Petisi Rakyat Papua also organised demonstrations today in West Papua province, including its capital, Manokwari, and Kaimana regency.
A police spokesman told RNZ Pacific that the demonstrations in Jayapura were forbidden, saying that because the Covid-19 outbreak in Jayapura is at a high level, authorities have made it clear that such public events that would add to the spread of the virus wouldn’t be tolerated.
In West Papua province, sixteen demonstrators were arrested in Kaimana, as state media reported that police have tightened restrictions on public movement in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19
Special Autonomy status, which was granted to West Papua 20 years ago in response to growing Papuan demands for independence, proved controversial.
Many Papuans deemed the Autonomy law had failed to empower them to run their own affairs, with calls for a legitimate self-determination process persisting.
Meanwhile, the demonstrators in Manokwari were also calling for the release of Papuan political prisoner, Victor Yeimo, a leading member of the pro-independence West Papua National Committee.
Yeimo, who was arrested in May over his alleged role in widespread anti-racism protests in 2019, is facing numerous charges including treason, arson, and incitement.
A statement by police related to his arrest also referred to Yeimo’s appearance and representations at the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva in March 2019.
An international organisation advocating for the rights of political prisoners in Indonesia, Tapol, is concerned that Yeimo is being targetted for state reprisal, and has appealed to Indonesian authorities for his release.