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Papuan students call for vote amid protests marking ‘anniversary’

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Papuan students under the Papuan Student Alliance (AMP) rally to commemorate Dec. 1, the day pro-independence activists declare as Papuan independence day, on Sunday in Yogyakarta. AFP

Papuan students call for vote amid protests marking ‘anniversary’

Hundreds of Papuan students in Java and Bali flocked to Yogyakarta on Sunday to rally in commemoration of what some Papuans claim to be the birth of the West Papua nation on December 1, 1961, demanding a referendum on self-determination.

In some other areas, meanwhile, Indonesian police heightened security measures to prevent similar rallies from taking place, including in Papua where officers arrested dozens of people suspected of being affiliated to the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB) prior to Sunday’s event.

About 100 Papuan students and activists from various organisations, including the Papuan Student Alliance (AMP) and the Indonesia People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-WP), joined the rally in Yogyakarta, during which they carried banners stating that, among other things, “West Papua needs freedom, not special autonomy”.

“We also demand law enforcers to release pro-democratic and antiracism activists who are still being detained until today, as well as the government to open access for national and international journalists to Papua,” AMP chairman Jhon Gobai told journalists on Sunday.

A series of antiracism protests that broke out across Papua and West Papua in August and September has led to the arrest of at least 83 individuals for alleged treason, including FRI-WP spokesperson Surya Anta.

The activist is now filing a pretrial motion against the police to annul his arrest.

Jhon added rally-goers also demanded authorities stop military operations, which they deemed to have violated human rights, especially in Papua’s Nduga and Puncak Jaya regencies.

“There should be a democratic way to solve issues in Papua because they can’t be solved through military actions. The rights for self-determination are also guaranteed in the 1945 Constitution,” he said.

On Saturday and Sunday, the authorities summoned Markus Haluk and Edison Waromi – two United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) leaders – to be interrogated over the distribution of flyers calling for people to attend mass prayers.

Lawyer Gustaf Kawer said the police questioned Markus and Edison regarding their signatures on the flyers.

“They confirmed that the names and signatures inscribed on the flyers were theirs, but they testified that it was not them who put their names and signatures there,” Kawer said.

Separately, Jayapura Police arrested 34 individuals and confiscated uniforms, KNPB emblems, slingshots and machetes from suspected KNPB sympathisers, Jayapura Police chief Viktor Mackbon said.

December 1 is considered by some Papuans as the anniversary of the Free Papua Movement (OPM). Last year, officials arrested more than 500 Papuans in several Indonesian cities for joining rallies to mark the event.

This year’s commemorations took place following unrest in Papua and West Papua, including incidents triggered by a racially charged attacks in Surabaya, East Java, in August and another one reportedly involving a teacher in Wamena, Papua, in September.

More than 30 people have died as a result of the rallies and riots.



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