Over 500 people were arrested in West Papua on Monday during self-determination protests on the 55th anniversary of Indonesia's military takeover of the region on Monday. Thousands marched across the region to support West Papuan freedom and to condemn decades of brutal treatment of Indigenous Melanesians by Indonesia.
In total, 528 people, including several children were arrested in the peaceful rallies across Indonesia’s most eastern province. A number had already been detained the night before the planned protests and activists reported that a number of people were beaten and badly injured before being arrested.
Activists also said that several who were detained were interrogated without a lawyer and at least one protester was tortured by Indonesian police. Journalists were banned from several areas and the headquarters of the West Papua National Committee in Jayapura was vandalized.
Demonstrations took place in at least 15 locations and several people were arrested after applying for demonstration permits with authorities, accoring to lawyer Veronica Koman, who is representing independence activist Filep Karma. Karma has been detained since 2004 for peacefully protesting for his people’s independence.
“This year alone over 4,800 people have been unlawfully arrested and many others killed and tortured by the Indonesian military and police,” said exiled West Papua independence leader Benny Wenda in a statement on Sunday.
Monday’s protests coincided with the anniversary of “Operation TRIKORA,” which was carried out when the Indonesian government invaded West Papua on Dec. 19, 1961 after Melanesian West Papuans first raised their Morning Star Flag on Dec.1. The region was then annexed by Indonesia in 1969 in a controversial referendum after winning independence from Dutch colonialism in 1963. Independence supporters say that the 1969 annexation is illegal and that Indonesian control has amounted to genocide.
Throughout Indonesia's hard rule of the mineral-rich area, around half a million Melanesian West Papuans are thought to have been killed by Indonesian authorities and pro-independence supporters face restrictions of movement and assembly, media blackouts, and many also have been held as political prisoners.
Protesters were also throwing their support behind the full membership of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, ULMWP, to the Melanesian Spearhead Group, MSG. The group includes other Melanesian nations, Vanuatu, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
A meeting is due to be held this month in Vanuatu to discuss membership, which would give West Papua an international platform to push for independence. A number of nations from the MSG have already publicly backed West Papua’s struggle for self-determination and condemned Indonesian human rights abuses in the area.