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West Papua 2021 Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly Full Report

21 October 2022
Tolak Otsus demonstration in Sorong (



London, 20th October 2022

Executive Summary

Criminalisation, collusion and broken promises have been the main issues in regard to the state of freedom of expression and assembly in and related to West Papua in 2021. After an unusual year affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns across the world, there has been renewed pressure from the Indonesian government which has criminalised, imprisoned and intimidated activists who have spoken out on West Papua-related issues, with increasing numbers of arrests and increasing incidents of police and militias acting together. The police have been involved, either solely or in concert with other actors, in a staggering 85.3 percent of all incidents. The report further shows:

  • That there were a t​​otal estimated number of 671 people arrested over the course of 2021, a 45.9 percent increase on numbers compared with 2020, which may in part be explained by the easing of Covid-19 restricti​​ons and by the ability and desire to assemble for protests on the streets again. 
  • At the same time as total arrests have increased, total arrest incidents have declined, meaning that mass arrests are being used more frequently by the security forces. Mass arrests indicate an attempt to disrupt and make further free association difficult.
  • In common with previous years, the authorities have continued to use treason charges to criminalise activists who are promoting the right to self-determination for the people of West Papua. The fact Indonesia have stated they do not recognise activities that, in their arbitrary definition, promote “separatism”, directly leads to the chilling effects these criminalisations bring.   
  • The military used anti-terror laws to classify armed groups as 'terrorist'. Despite a claimed new 'humanitarian' approach at the end of 2021, a 'terrorism' reasoning was used by the security forces and intelligence operatives to disrupt and criminalise nonviolent civilian groups.
  • The authorities still used Covid as the most common reason for dispersing protests, despite official restrictions easing. It was used on no fewer than 10 occasions, mainly in dispersals outside West Papua. By far the most targeted group were students, who were the primary targets in 29 ​​of the reported cases, making up over 69 per cent of the total incidents.
  • The authorities have carried out violations by commission - arbitrarily breaking up demonstrations and arresting perpetrators, and torture, beatings and cruel treatment of those arrested - as well as omission, such as deliberately neglecting prisoners who needed treatment. 
  • On several occasions, assemblies were confronted by militia groups whose members physically assaulted, intimidated and harassed demonstrators, as police stood by. Student demonstrations in particular outside West Papua were subject to this tactic.