West Papuan women ‘shield’ activists as rally forcibly dispersed by police

by Ronny Kareni, West Papua Media

July 29, 2013

(Jayapura)  Four activists were arrested by police and nine de-arrested by West Papuan women at pro-independence rallies in Jayapura.

According to witnesses, twenty West Papuan women jumped into a police truck as police prepared to take three men and six women to the police station. A witness told West Papua Media via phone that “the police were confused” by the women’s spontaneous response and immediately released the seven detained activists.

The de-arrest occurred at a demonstration in Jayapura calling for intervention in West Papua by the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the Australian and US governments. The protesters also expressed support for the Freedom Flotilla, a land and sea convey currently travelling from Lake Eyre in South Australia to West Papua.

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The rally was organized by West Papua National Authority (WPNA), West Papua Melanesian Women Solidarity (SPrMPB), West Papua Melanesian Youth Solidarity (SPMPB), West Papua Child (AWEPA), the Secretariat of Regional Yapen Territory, the Papua Prayer Team Solidarity, Papua Youth Student and Jayapura University of Cenderawasih (UNCEN) Students. The groups are all aligned with the National Federal Republic of West Papua (NFRPB) who declared independence from Indonesia on 19 October 2011.

From beginning to end, the rally was marred by police violence.  Reports from a local stringer via SMS to West Papua Media confirmed that at 7:45am local time, fully armed police blockaded the front of the UNCEN gate entrance, in Waena; where the rally was due to depart from. The police forcefully arrested Benny Sage (23), a student activist and field coordinator of the rally, according to the WPM stringer.

As the rally approached the roundabout at Abepura, several kilometers later, around fifty police personnel, three police trucks and one prisoner police van stopped the march. Police fired several shots into the air to disperse the crowd.

At the Roundabout Mr. Markus Yenu, Governor of NRFPB, Domberai III regency, told demonstrators to stand their ground as he negotiated with police. Yenu told West Papua Media by phone that the police began to forcibly break up the march while he was still negotiating with the police. According to witnesses the orders to disperse the crowd were carried out by Head of local Police Command, Mr. B Rumbiak, and his Deputy, Mr. Kiki Kurnia.

Three activists, Usama Yogobi (37), Alius Asso (30) and Yon Selegani (24), were arrested by police and taken away to Polda Papua headquarters in Jayapura for questioning. It was at this point, as police arrested and beat nine more demonstrators and loaded them into a police van, that the women intervened and jumped into the police trucks and ordered the police to release those detained.

Mr. Yenu told West Papua Media that he deeply regrets the arrest of the three men at the rally and of Benny Sage earlier in the day. “The police should not have done this. Our action was peaceful and honourable. The police were not professional in the way they carried out their duty. Indonesian government must show that it is a democratic country and should allow democratic space for the protesters,” said Yenu.

Those beaten included, Martinus Wandamani, Abner Inngimur, another man and six women from SPrMPB, whose names were not available at the time of writing. Injuries have been reported but no particulars are yet available.

At the same time as police dispersed the rally at the roundabout in Abepura, demonstrators who gathered near Nayak dormitory located at Garuda Kamkei road, were forcibly detained by fifteen police officers who pointed firearms at the demonstrators.

Human rights workers described the police behaviour throughout the day as “vicious”. One person told West Papua Media that there was “no democratic space for peaceful demonstration”.

The Governor of Papua Province, Mr. Lukas Enembe, an indigenous Papuan, has vowed to crack down on all street protests in West Papua. The Governor’s order has received widespread condemnation from activists and human rights groups in West Papua who say it is a violation of people’s democratic right to peacefully protest.

A group of 12 elderly Papuan citizens went to Polda Papua to negotiate for the release of the four activists later, at 4:00pm.  Human rights workers had expressed fears for their safety.  However, by the time this article was published, the four activists – Benny Hisage (23), Alius Asso (30), Usman Yogobi (37), and Johanes Elegani (24) – had been released after a team of elders negotiated with police.

Demonstrations also occurred in the town of Fak Fak on the North-Western coast of the country on the same day.

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