Mass arrests in West Papua independence protests

Nearly 2,000 people were arrested by security forces over the past week in Indonesia's Papua province for "illegal" pro-independence demonstrations, activists report. Over 1,000 were detained in the provincial capital, Jayapura, and hundreds more elsewhere in the territory. Victor Yeimo, chairman of the West Papua National Committee, said many people were assaulted during the arrests. "There's no room for democracy in West Papua, so they came suddenly to the place where we wanted to prepare for demonstration," he said. "And they arrested the people, they beat the people. This is peaceful action, we are the peaceful resistance… but Indonesians give us the torture." The protests mark the anniversary of the end of Dutch colonial rule over the territory in 1963, and a weekend visit to the province by Indonesian President Joko Widodo. (SBSAl Jazeera, May 3)

Parliamentarians from several Pacific countries and Britain meanwhile met in London to issue a declaration calling for an internationally supervised vote on the independence of West Papua, as independence advocates call the Indonesian-controlled western half of the island. The group, International Parliamentarians for West Papua, was meeting at the Houses of Parliament to discuss the future of the territory.

According to the group Free West Papua, the British opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, reiterated his support for the West Papuan struggle and said he would like this to be written into Labour Party policy.

The declaration decried continued human rights abuses in the territory, and warned that without international action the Papuan people risk extinction. The declaration also said the 1969 "Act of Free Choice," the UN-backed referendum by which the former Dutch New Guinea was incorporated into Indonesia, was a violation of the principle of self-determination. It called for a new vote in accordance with UN General Assembly resolutions. (RNZ, May 4)

In recent years, Indonesian authorities have changed the administrative divisions in the territory, in an apparent effort to erode local identity. In 2003, Indonesian Papua, then called Irian Jaya, was broken up into the provinces of Papua and West Papua. The latter was initially named West Irian Jaya (Irian Jaya Barat); it received its current name in 2007. The pro-independence forces support the unity of the territory. (News Ghana, March 11; see map)