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West Papua: 61 new political prisoners on 1st December West Papuan National Day commemoration crackdown

9 December, 2019

West Papuans have been commemorating their National Day on 1st December every year since 1961. This has often resulted in violent repression by the Indonesian security forces.

TAPOL is very alarmed by the security forces’ crackdown in the lead up to the 1st December commemoration day this year. In particular, we are concerned with the use of treason charges against those commemorating the National Day, and others. The security forces arrested 126 people, resulting in 61 new political prisoners who have been charged with treason. This follows a spate of arrests for treason between 30th August to 23rd September. Security forces brought 22 treason cases in the latter period. A further treason case was brought against an individual on 26th November 2019 in Sorong for carrying a Morning Star flag. In total, there were 84 individuals were charged with treason in the period from 30th August to 3rd December. 

Political Arrests

On 26th November, political activist Pilipus Robaha was arrested for a day following a plan to hold a 1st December public prayer event in Jayapura. Eight people were arrested in Manokwari the next day for carrying 29 Morning Star flags and posters, and seven of them have since been charged with treason.

On the morning of 1st December, four West Papuan students in Jayapura were arrested for carrying Morning Star flags in a church during Sunday service. The pastor was questioned at the police station over the incident the following day. In the afternoon, 54 people from three villages were arrested in Fakfak for allegedly planning to raise the Morning Star flag, and 23 of them have since been charged with treason. Some of them were subjected to degrading treatment during the arrest, as shown in the photo below. Journalists were prevented from reporting the incident when they first arrived at the police station.




















On the evening of 1st December, 34 people, including teenagers, were arrested in Sentani when they were allegedly on their way to Trikora Field to raise the Morning Star flag. The field is named after the campaign to invade and occupy West Papua and any attempt to raise the Morning Star flag would likely have been headed off by security forces. Of the twenty who are charged with treason, six among them are also charged with possessing weapons, and one with incitement. In Merauke on 1st and 2nd December, the secretariat of the non-violent activist group West Papua National Committee (KNPB) was surrounded by security forces. Four members of the group were briefly arrested on 2nd December when security forces ransacked the KNPB secretariat and painted over Morning Star symbols and colours. Eleven people were arrested and charged with treason in Sorong on 3rd December over the raising of the Morning Star flag on a hilltop at the top of the city on 1st December.

A number of incidents also occurred outside West Papua. A protest in Ambon, Maluku was forcibly dispersed by security forces on 1st December. Also on 1st December, the main dormitory of West Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java was surrounded for the whole day by dozens of soldiers and police, beginning at 3 am. Other dormitories in the same city were also visited by police. 

On 2nd December, ten non-Papuan students, who had been commemorating the national day in solidarity with West Papuans, were arrested overnight after they were violently dispersed by the military and police at their university’s campus in Ternate, North Maluku. Some of them were beaten and kicked during arrest and interrogation at the police station. 

Other incidents

Leaders of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) Markus Haluk and Edison Waromi were summoned for questioning at a police station in Jayapura on 1st December over the plan to hold a public prayer event. The former was also questioned on 30th November.

West Papuans have reported feeling intimidated by a show of force by soldiers parachuting in Timika, on the pretext of a ‘military exercise’ on 29th November.

On 30th November, in Timika, a group of security forces came to the house of a KNPB activist and took his phone while the activist was not at home. Dozens of security forces in at least a dozen vehicles also paid a visit to ULMWP’s secretariat in Merauke. While in Manokwari, local media reported that 1,208 military and police were put on standby. West Papuans in other areas also reported feeling intimidated by armed soldiers and police patrols.

This year, the heads of the Indonesian national police and military, the chief security minister and the Minister of Home Affairs visited West Papua in anticipation of 1st December. This move is unprecedented.

TAPOL is very concerned with the increase in military and police operations in West Papua to coincide with West Papua’s national day. We urge the Government of Indonesia to immediately and unconditionally release the 84 political prisoners charged with treason. We also urge the withdrawal of thousands of extra security forces that have been deployed to West Papua since August 2019. Such a move has continuously intimidated indigenous West Papuans.

Picture: Viral photo showing Indonesian security forces’ treatment of West Papuan Fak Fak residents who were arrested on 1st December