Indonesian crackdown on West Papuan activists

Almost 2,000 West Papuans were arrested by Indonesian authorities in early May, after demonstrations were held to commemorate the 1963 annexation of the territory and to demand independence.

The continuing occupation of West Papua has been referred to as a slow-motion genocide, and has left up to 500,000 dead. According to journalist John Martinkus, writing in the Saturday Paper:

“It was the largest mass arrest of pro-independence demonstrators in Papua, and included the arrest of demonstrators in the regional centres of Sorong, Merauke, Wamena, Fak-Fak and Manokwari. Arrests were made at similar rallies in Semarang in Java and Makassar in South Sulawesi.

“In all, 1888 people were arrested for demonstrating for independence. Photos and video circulating both on social media and local media show the masses of people arrested in Jayapura and taken to the Indonesian police compound – forced to sit in rows in the heat and made to remove their clothes.

“According to local journalist Benny Mawel, reporting for Tabloid Jubi, the treatment of some of those detained was very rough. Activists were separated from the main group and put in cells at the main police headquarters. They were beaten – police stamping on their chests and backs and hitting them in the head with rifle butts. They were threatened with death and stripped of their clothes.”

The protests occurred just after a visit by Indonesian president Joko Widodo. West Papuans are calling for the upcoming Melanesian Spearhead Group conference to grant full membership to pro-independence parties. The MSG was set up in 1986 and includes Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands; the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, a pro-independence coalition, was granted observer status last year.

Despite allegations of torture and widespread abuse, pro-independence activists have vowed to continue fighting.