Security forces opened fire at a separatist flag-raising ceremony in Indonesia’s restive Papua region Thursday, on the 50th anniversary of the region’s claim to independence.
Around 500 protesters had watched a traditional dance and started cheering and running in a large circle when the region’s Morning Star flag was raised on a bamboo pole in the centre, an AFP correspondent at the scene witnessed.
Around 120 police and soldiers, along with a military truck, stormed the crowd and opened fire after the main flag was raised.
Police detained two protesters after kicking and punching them on the ground.
Papuan youth activist leader Markus Haluk told AFP that two people had been shot.
“At the ceremony in Timika, police and military opened fire and wounded one woman and one man. They are both being treated in hospital,” Haluk said.
But Mimika district deputy police chief Mada Indra Laksanta denied the shootings, saying police merely fired warning shots into the air.
“No protesters were shot, we didn’t shoot into the crowd. They were carrying sharp weapons and rocks,” Laksanta told AFP.
“Two protesters fell into the ditch as they were fleeing and suffered abrasions. They were not shot, they only had abrasions,” he said.
“Three police were wounded, their faces and heads were hit with rocks.”
Flag-raising ceremonies were held in a number of towns across Papua, and others were planned abroad in the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.
On December 1, 1961, Papuans first raised the Morning Star flag and sang a new national anthem after being granted freedom from more than 130 years of Dutch colonial rule.
A year later, Indonesia invaded Papua and took over the region with a self-determination referendum in 1969, which was widely seen as rigged.
Papuans, mostly ethnic Melanesians, have rejected the region’s status as a region within Indonesia and poorly armed separatist groups have fought a low-level insurgency.
Displaying separatist symbols such as the Morning Star is considered an act of treason in Indonesia under the criminal code and several perpetrators are serving 20-year jail terms for the offence.
Some are serving life sentences, the maximum penalty under the criminal code for anyone “with an intention to to bring the territory of the state … under foreign domination”.