The list of political prisoners in Indonesia’s West Papua and Papua provinces is growing higher, as at least 110 people were arrested for raising the Papuan national flag over the weekend. Police charged 20 people with treason (makar), which carries a maximum 20-year prison term.
Every year on December 1, towns across the Papuan provinces hold small marches and prayer services, commemorating the day in 1961 when a group of Papuan legislators – promised independence by then-colonial ruler the Netherlands – first raised the Papuan national flag, the Bintang Kejora (“Morning Star”) flag.
This was before Indonesia invaded Papua in 1962, which the United Nations General Assembly recognized in 1969. Since then, Indonesia has cracked down on Papuan separatists, treating the raising of the Morning Star flag as a criminal offense.
In Jayapura on December 1, four students attended a Sunday morning mass with the Morning Star flag. The media reported that about 20 Indonesian police went to the church and arrested the students, prompting many churchgoers to flee. The police only released the four students after midnight.
In Fakfak, Indonesian police and military separately arrested 54 Papuan men, asking them to take off their shirts and pants, the media reported. Police then tied their hands together and, as photographs show, forced the suspects to crawl subserviently before the security officers.
Veronica Koman, an Indonesian human rights lawyer, said at least 110 people were arrested on December 1 – 34 in Jayapura; 54 in Fakfak; 8 in Manokwari; 10 in Ternate; and 4 in Merauke.
Charging protesters in Jayapura with treason adds to a growing list of political prisoners in Indonesia. In August and September, Indonesian authorities arrested and charged at least 22 people with treason for their involvement in protests, following at times violent demonstrations in Papua and West Papua. The protests took place after a video was circulated of Indonesian militias racially abusing indigenous Papuan students, calling them “monkeys.”
Human Rights Watch takes no position on Papuan claims to self-determination, but it supports the right of all individuals, including independence supporters, to express their political views peacefully without fear of arrest or other forms of reprisal. To the extent individuals are arrested and imprisoned for possessing or raising a Papuan flag, such treatment constitutes arbitrary arrest and detention in violation of international law.