Indonesia arrests pro-Papua activists

Indonesian police attempt to arrest Papuans who took part in an anti-government rally and demanded a referendum on Papua, in Jakarta. (AFP pic)

JAKARTA: An Australian was among hundreds of pro-Papuan independence activists arrested across Indonesia at the weekend, police and rights groups said Monday.

Some 233 activists, including Australian Ronda Amy Harman, were detained late Saturday in Indonesia’s second-largest city Surabaya, East Java police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera told AFP.

Local media reported that the arrests were made at a student dormitory.

They were among more than 500 activists swept up in a nationwide police crackdown that coincided with rallies on Dece 1, a date many Papuans consider should be the anniversary of their independence from the Dutch.

Papua declared itself an independent nation on that date in 1961, but neighbouring Indonesia took control of the region by force in 1963. It officially annexed Papua in 1969 with a UN-backed vote, widely seen as a sham.

No one was formally charged in the Surabaya arrests including Harman, Mangera said, adding that the 35-year-old woman was reported to immigration officials.

A spokesperson at the Australian embassy in Jakarta could not immediately be reached for comment.

The arrests followed a rally in which counter protestors threw stones at around 300 Papuans, injuring 16 people, Amnesty International said.

Rights groups have blasted authorities for the mass detentions, saying it was an assault on Papuans’ right to freedom of expression and assembly.

“These people did nothing but peacefully attend public events,” Amnesty International Indonesia’s executive director Usman Hamid said in a statement.

“These arbitrary arrests add to the long list of acts of harassment, intimidation and arrests faced by Papuans.”

Jakarta keeps a tight grip on resource-rich Papua, which has been the scene of a low-level independence insurgency since the late Sixties.

Some of the violence has been centred on protests against a huge gold and copper mine owned by US-based firm Freeport McMoRan – a frequent flashpoint in the local struggle for independence and a bigger share of the region’s rich resources.