Major protests in West Papua – despite Indonesian pledge of violence

Headband with the colors of the banned separatist ”Morning Star” flag, in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 1, 2021. Although Indonesia guarantees freedom of speech and equal value for all in its constitution, West Papuans are denied openly advocating a division from Indonesia, or a 1999 referendum. years ditto in East Timor – at the same time as it is forbidden by law to hoist the West Papuan flag, ”Morning Star”. Photo: TT / AP Photo / Tatan Syuflana


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Major protests in West Papua – despite Indonesian pledge of violence

On International Women’s Day, 8 March, hundreds of people gathered in Jayapura to manifest against police brutality and against the plans to further divide West Papua into five separate provinces. The manifestation didn’t have a permit – although student bodies had applied one – and, as in the past, it did take place, despite Indonesian police authorities’ pledge to meet it with violence.

“We’re used to it”, a human rights worker in West Papua tells Global Magazine.

By Klas Lundström

WEST PAPUA | Photos obtained by Global Magazine show how hundreds of people have gathered in the city of Jayapura during the global celebration of International Women’s Day.

At the heart of the Jayapura demonstration is the criticism of Indonesia’s ongoing plans to further divide West Papua – formerly a Dutch colonial possession known as West New Guinea – into five provinces, from today’s two.

A political initiative that would further divide and hinder the possibility of unity among West Papuan social and political movements over the large half-island, and which would improve Indonesian control over its land-grabbed piece of land due to an UN-led referendum in 1969, called “Act of Free Choice” – and Jakarta’s stronghold over West Papua would further cement itself in the soil by the appoint of more regional leaders loyal to the Indonesian state.

The West Papuan citizens who have gathered in Jayapura are, thus, defying several political realities; among them the Indonesian authorities’ decision to reject any permit to the manifestation itself – citing security and the covid-19 pandemic as main reasons.

“Demonstrations are always crushed by police violence and no West Papuan citizen is ever allowed to demonstrate against anything anyway”, a human rights activist in West Papua, and who wishes to remain anonymous regarding personal safety, tells Global Magazine.

“Morning Star”, a forbidden symbol

It’s clear that Indonesian authorities rarely, if ever, give green light to West Papuan movements or student bodies to manifest their stand on independence. Although Indonesia guarantees freedom of expression and equal value for all, West Papuans are openly denied advocating any quest for partition from Indonesia, or a referendum like the 1999 ditto in East Timor, while raising the West Papuan flag, “Morning Star”, is a banned act.

Changing geopolitical landscape?

The 8 March manifestation in Jayapura, however, occurred at an interesting political stage where the United Nations, and its Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), led by ex-Chilean President Michele Bachelet, publicly expressed its concern and criticism over extrajudicial executions and deadly violence by committed Indonesian security forces and police against West Papuan civilians.

The most recent death befell 13-year-old Makilon Tabuni, who was beaten to death by Indonesian security forces, having been wrongly accused of stealing a gun from a weapons depot.

“Indonesia has stepped up its military operations in West Papua since Russia invaded Ukraine. 2022 is likely to be another bloody year if the global community opt to stand down from its responsibility to intervene to save the indigenous population”, the West Papuan human rights activist tell Global Magazine.

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