Jakarta. The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) has criticized police in the capital over the detention of several hundred Papuan students calling for independence at a rally in the city center on Tuesday.
Hundreds of members of the Papuan Students Alliance (AMP) rallied near the Hotel Indonesia roundabout in Central Jakarta on Tuesday, from about 8 a.m. Police later used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
The demonstration was meant to commemorate the establishment of a Papuan state independent from Dutch rule, with its own national anthem and the Morning Star flag, effective Dec. 1, 1961.
Indonesia has never recognized Papuan independence and later incorporated the entire region after a brief United Nations-led transition period and a much-criticized poll. Dec. 1 has since held great importance for Papuan separatists.
In Jakarta on Tuesday, demonstrators called on the national government to allow Papuans to decide their own fate via autonomous governance and a referendum on independence, besides limiting the role of the Indonesian Military (TNI) in the region.
Police, however, said the protesters didn't have permission to stage their rally.
"The police efforts were lawful, because we have to also take into account the rights of other people," said Sr. Comr. M. Iqbal, a spokesman for the Jakarta Police.
Jalan Imam Bonjol, near the HI roundabout, was completely cut off because of the demonstration, creating severe traffic congestion in the area.
Police officers gathered in force at the scene before firing tear gas into the crowd as the group prepared to march to the State Palace around 10.30 a.m.
Iqbal said that around 300 people had been detained but not arrested. Police would record their personal data, he added, and then let them go. Three people, however, would be prosecuted because they allegedly attacked police officers during the scuffle.
Several police officers suffered minor injuries. Media reports said at least one demonstrator was also injured.
The police spokesman also said the students had not brought along the banned Morning Star flag.
LBH Jakarta said the demonstrators' rights were violated.
“Our freedom of expression — including that of the Papuans' — is guaranteed in the Constitution,” LBH Jakarta director Alghiffari Aqsa said in a press statement.
“They simply expressed their opinion concerning the Papuan identity day [Dec. 1] but the police became repressive,” Veronica Koman, a lawyer with LBH, told CNN Indonesia.
"They commemorate [this day] once a year. They are not even part of the [separatist] Free Papua Organization [OPM]. They are just students," she said.
“It is such a shame. The law enforcers should respect and protect human rights, including those of Papuans,” said M. Isnur, another LBH Jakarta activist.
Additional reporting by Bayu Marhaenjati