Indonesian police arrested more than 500 people on Sunday and Monday in connection with protests against Papua’s incorporation into Indonesia in the 1960s.
The arrests took place in the Papuan towns of Jayapura, Merauke, Nabire, Wamena, Sorong, Manokwari, Timika, Yahukimo, as well as Manado, (North Sulawesi) Ambon (Maluku), Ternate (North Maluku), Bandung (West Java), Yogyakarta (Central Java) and Jakarta, according to Veronica Koman, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Institute in Jakarta.
“A total of 528 people were arrested. Two journalists were preventing by police from reporting, Arnold Belau from suarapapua.com and Zely Ariane from Jubi,” she said.
“In Nabire, four people were arrested when they went to the police station to report a peaceful demonstration to be carried out on Monday,” she said.
Demonstrators had planned actions to mark the anniversary of Operation Trikora, an ultimately successful effort to absorb what was then known as West Irian into Indonesia launched on Dec. 19, 1961.
Indonesia, under then-president Soekarno, viewed all former Dutch possessions in the region as rightful parts of the young nation, and began a military campaign to “liberate” West Irian, which at the time was undergoing decolonization aimed at independence.
Amid escalating tensions, the Dutch abandoned the region and in May 1963, via the United Nations, West Irian was transferred to Indonesia. Some 1,025 Papuans who participated in a U.N.-mandated “Act of Free Choice” in 1969 chose integration.
The provinces of Papua and West Papua, located at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago, make up approximately one-fifth of Indonesia’s land mass. Only 5.9 million of Indonesia’s 250 million people live there.
Police began arresting people in connection with the planned protests late Sunday including in Wamena, a town in the Papuan highlands.
“Around 10:00 p.m., joint army and police forces arrested 30 members of the West Papua National Committee at the secretariat of the Papua Traditional Council (DAP) in Sinapuk. There were also sweeps on Patimura Street,” local leader Dominikus Surabut told BenarNews on Monday.
Contacted by telephone, Jayawijaya Police Chief Yan Piter Reba confirmed the arrests and said they were carried out to prevent unrest.
“We held them because on the demonstration on Dec. 10, when we gave them a permit but … several public facilities were damaged,” he said.
John Jonga, a priest in Jayawijaya, said that police fired weapons at a gathering in Sinakma Field in Wamena late Sunday, and took children into custody.
“Children were also arrested and taken to the police station. A mother with a four-year-old child was taken to the police station, along with six other children about eight or nine years old,” he said.
Security forces also fired weapons near a crowd gathering at Kama Field, John said.
“The number of people detained at the police station at the moment is about 155,” John said.
Reba confirmed that “warning shots” had been fired.
“My officer fired warning shots in the air because he was kicked. No one was hurt,” he said.
He said that people arrested in the night had been freed the following day.
In Jayapura, the provincial capital located on the north coast of Papua province, security forces blocked an attempted march and seized several motorcycles from the campus of Cenderawasih University.
A top university official, Vice Rector Fredik Sokoy, said the action was not requested by the university. Agustinus Mosip, the manager of a university dormitory, Asrama Rusunawa, said police had raided the place without a permit.
Seven people were arrested: Gobodus Kogoya, Teren Surabut, Fred Walianggen, Edi Jalak, Elselina Tebai, Elihut Tebai and Opin Yeimo.
Provincial police spokesman Ahmad Mustopa Kamal said officers entered the hostel because demonstrators ran inside, and arrested people after discovering illegal items.
“We found motorcycles with no permits, marijuana, Free Papua paraphernalia, arrows, machetes, three pieces of ammunition and a laptop,” Ahmad said.
If no proof is found linking the arrested individuals to the items they will be released, he said.