West Papuan solidarity group condemns arrest of 21 activists protesting 1962 ‘tragedy’

Some of the arrested West Papuan activists
Some of the arrested West Papuan activists who handed out flyers about the New York Agreement protest. Image: Tabloid Jubi

Asia Pacific Report

An Australian West Papuan solidarity group has condemned the reported arrest of 21 activists protesting in Jayapura over a “tragic day in history” and called on Canberra to urge Jakarta to restrain its security forces.

The West Papuan National Committee (KNPB) activists were arrested at the weekend because they were handing out flyers calling on West Papuans to mark the date on Tuesday — 15 August 1962 —  when the Papuan people were “betrayed by the international community”, reports Jubi News.

That was the date of the New York Agreement, brokered by the US, which called for the transfer of the Dutch colony of Netherlands New Guinea to Indonesia after a short period of UN administration.

No West Papuans were involved in this agreement.

“Hopefully this year the Indonesian security forces will allow the West Papuan people to hold their peaceful rallies without interference,” said Joe Collins, spokesperson for the Australia West Papua Association (AWPA) in a statement.

“Canberra should be urging Jakarta to control its security forces in West Papua, otherwise we will see more arrests and more human rights abuses.

“We should not forget,  Australia was involved and still involved”.

The New York Agreement included a guarantee that the Papuan people would be allowed an “Act of Free Choice” to determine their political status.

Peaceful demonstration
The so-called “Act of Free Choice” in 1969 has been branded as a sham by activists and international critics.

Sixty one years after that contested agreement, West Papuans are still calling for a real referendum.

West Papuan activists handing out New York Agreement protest flyers in Jayapura
West Papuan activists handing out New York Agreement protest flyers in Jayapura. Image: Jubi News

The Central KNPB spokesperson, Ones Suhuniap, said that 21 KNPB Sentani Region activists were arrested on Saturday when activists distributed leaflets calling for a peaceful demonstration to mark the New York Agreement and also the racism troubles that Papuan students suffered in Surabaya, Central Java, in August 2019.

Although some of the activists had been released, these arrests were intended to intimidate civil society groups into not taking part in the planned rallies, said the spokesperson.

Collins said: “West Papuan civil society groups regularly hold events and rallies on days of significance in their history, to try and bring attention to the world of the injustices they suffer under Indonesian rule.

“And this is what Jakarta fears most — international scrutiny on the ongoing human rights abuses in the territory”.

A West Papua news report of the activist arrests
A West Papua news report of the activist arrests. Image: Jubi News/APR screenshot

Collins said it was of “great concern” that Indonesian security forces could again stage a crackdown in “their usual heavy-handed approach to any peaceful rallies held by West Papuans” during this coming week.

In the past, West Papuans had not only been being arrested for peaceful action but had also been beaten, tortured – and some people had faced charges of treason.

Three students jailed for ‘treason’
On Tuesday, three students were found guilty of treason and given a 10-month prison term by a panel of judges at the Jayapura District Court for alleged treason by being involved in a “free speech” event last year, reports Jubi News.

Yoseph Ernesto Matuan, Devio Tekege, and Ambrosius Fransiskus Elopere took part in the event held at Jayapura University of Science and Technology (USTJ) on November 10, 2022, when they waved Morning Star flags of independence.

The event aimed to reject a Papua peace dialogue plan introduced by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

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