Police disperse a demonstration by the Papuan Students Alliance and the Indonesian Front for West Papua in Central Jakarta on Thursday (01/12). Protesters are demanding the government to hold a referendum for Papuan independence. (Antara Photo/Juan Ferdinand)

Papuan Leaders Tell Pro-Independence Activists to Trust Jokowi Administration


DECEMBER 01, 2016

Jakarta. A protest in support of Papua's independence in Jakarta on Thursday (01/12) ended up with the police beating up the protesters and drew criticism from fellow Papuans, who called on the demonstrators to heed efforts by the government to speed up development in Indonesia's easternmost province.

The protest was the latest in a string of demonstrations recent years that saw authorities repressing protesting Papuans in various parts of the country as decades-old insurgencies in the province showed no signs of abating.

Around 100 Papuans joined the pro-independence rally at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle to celebrate the Free West Papua Movement's anniversary.

The Indonesian government claims it has been intensifying efforts to ease tension in Papua by starting a number of infrastructure projects to boost economy in the island.

But many Papuans say the developmental approach could barely address the root causes of injustice in the province, which has led to rampant cases of human rights abuses.

Hours after Thursday's demonstration, senior Papuan leaders in Jakarta called on the protesters to calm down, saying President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's administration has been doing its best to find a solution for Papua.

"The government is trying to understand the conditions in Papua while at the same time carrying out those development programs," Nico Yarangga said. "Maybe the protesters have yet to see the results as the programs are still underway."

Police prevented dozens of Papuans from marching from the busy Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in the city center to the Presidential Palace. The police fired water cannons at the protesters before taking some of them to their headquarters.

Protesters wore Morning Star headscarfs, the banned symbol of the Papuan independence movement, prompting police to move against them.

"We brought them into custody because they were wearing accessories that are an insult to the state," Supt. Hendy Kurniawan of the Jakarta Police told reporters after the demonstration.

Papuan insurgents have long protested against a UN-backed referendum in 1969 that saw Papua becoming part of Indonesia, saying it was rigged. They have complained the central government has since given the resource-rich region an unfair share of the state's wealth.

"There will always be insurgencies if Papuans are hungry. But they will calm down if they are happy. And what the government is doing now is trying to make them happy," Nico's colleague, Max, told the Jakarta Globe.