At least thirty-eight people in Indonesia’s easternmost provinces were named treason suspects over the last week in connection with attempts to raise the Papuan flag, police and lawyers told BenarNews.
Dozens more were arrested and questioned as security forces moved to prevent flag-raisings on Dec. 1, which some Papuans consider their national day.
Raising the Papuan flag is illegal in Indonesia, where tensions are high in Papua following violent demonstrations earlier this year and escalating demands for a referendum on independence for the region.
Twenty people arrested Saturday in Sentani, an area near the Papuan provincial capital of Jayapura, are expected to be charged with treason, Yohanis Mambrasar, a lawyer with the Papua Human Rights Advocates Association (PAHAM), confirmed to BenarNews.
“That’s right. Twenty people have been named treason suspects. They will be charged under Article 106, in conjunction with Article 87, and Article 110 in conjunction with Article 88 of the Criminal Code,” he said.
Of these, six also will be charged with possessing weapons and one will face charges of incitement, said Victor Makbon, the police chief in Jayapura.
The 20 suspects and 14 others who were questioned and released came to Jayapura from other parts of the province to attend a flag-raising, Mambrasar said.
Seven people arrested in Manokwari, a coastal town in West Papua province, were being held for questioning after being picked up on Nov. 27, a local police official said.
“They are still under police custody at Manokwari Police Headquarters, while investigators are still looking for a man with the initials A.N.” who allegedly incited them to hold a protest, said Musa J. Permana, who heads the Crime and Research Unit at the regency’s police department. Police would release more information about the case soon, he added.
However, Yan Warinussi, a lawyer from the Legal Aid Research, Study and Development Institute (LP3BH) said police had named seven of the eight people detained in Manokwari as suspects.
Meanwhile, West Papua Police Chief Brig. Gen. Herry Rudolf Nahak said police had arrested 11 people and charged them with treason after a flag-raising ceremony on Dec. 1 at Puncak Malanu, in Sorong, another coastal town in West Papua province.
Arrests also took place in Fakfak, on the southern coast of West Papua, including dozens who allegedly attempted to raise a flag at the official residence of the regent, the top local official. Twenty of these people allegedly had cards stating they were members of the West Papuan National Liberation Army (TPNPB).
Fakfak police chief Ary Nyoto Setiawan said 23 people had raised Papua’s Morning Star flag in Warpa Kayuni village.
“About 20 will be named treason suspects,” he said.
Two leaders of the United Liberation for West Papua were questioned by police in Jayapura over an appeal to worship to commemorate Dec. 1, the date Papuans declared independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1961.
Four men arrested during worship at Gembala Baik Church in the largely Christian province were released without charges early Monday after questioning, according to LBH Papua, the Papua Branch of Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation. The pastor of the church, James Kossay, was also questioned by police and released.
Police previously charged six activists with treason for flying the banned flag during a rally demanding a referendum on self-determination in Jakarta late August.
In addition, they are seeking the arrest of Australian-based Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman. She is accused of spreading misinformation through her social-media posts about police treatment of the Papuan students in Surabaya.
A low-level separatist conflict has unfolded since the 1960s in Papua. The region declared its independence from Dutch colonial rule on Dec. 1, 1961. But that was rejected by the Netherlands and later by Indonesia.
In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded the region and annexed it.
Six years later, the region held a referendum in which security forces selected slightly more than 1,000 people to agree to Papua’s formal absorption into the nation, according to human rights advocacy groups.