Jayapura. West Papua Police have arrested 10 people for raising the banned Morning Star flag, a symbol of Papuan independence, during a rally in Manokwari on Thursday.
Authorities say they were cracking down on subversion against the state, while Amnesty International called on Friday for an investigation into human rights violations perpetrated by the Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob).
A reported 100 people joined a long march in Manokwari, the West Papuan capital, to commemorate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on Thursday, carrying the Morning Star flag and waving it for an hour in front of the local office of the Papuan Customary Council (DAP).
Police reportedly arrested up to 10 people from the crowd, accusing them of being involved in a seditious act.
“You can organize rallies, but don’t bring [Morning Star] flags with the intention of opposing the state. That is called subversion,” Papua Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Yohanes Nugroho said in Jayapura on Friday. “We have seized the flag as evidence,” he added.
Yohanes said police also arrested two men in Serui, the Papua district of Yapen Islands, for raising another Morning Star flag
while calling themselves citizens of the Federal Republic of West Papua.
The secretary of the West Papua National Authority, Topan, said police not only seized the flag, but also some documents and electronic equipment.
“They seized all attributes [carried by protesters]. Some were beaten,” Topan said, as quoted by Indonesian news portal tempo.co.
The Morning Star flag is an especially contentious symbol. Papuan Filep Karma is currently serving a 15-year jail sentence for raising what the government calls the “separatist” Morning Star flag in 2004 in Jayapura.
In a statement issued on their website on Friday, Amnesty International called for an “independent and impartial investigation into reports that police used unnecessary and excessive force to disperse a peaceful demonstration.”
Amnesty called the arrests “arbitrary,” and said that according to their local sources, “some [demonstrators were] reportedly beaten by security forces during their arrest . . . Indonesian security forces then fired their guns into the air to disperse the protesters.”
“The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are guaranteed in Articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Indonesia is a state party,” Amnesty International’s website read. “ . . . Amnesty International has documented dozens of other cases of arbitrary arrest and detention in past years of peaceful political activists in Papua.”
But Djoko Suyanto, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said in 2011 that detained Papuan activists are not political prisoners, but criminals who have broken the law. Djoko called the distinction a matter of perception.