On 7 February 2024, the police intervened to disrupt a thanksgiving service and inauguration of the working structure of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) in Jayapura City, Papua Province. The event, scheduled for 10:00 am local time, faced tight police control, with a heavy presence of law enforcement vehicles and officers surrounding the venue. Tensions escalated when police prohibited attendees from putting up billboards. The authorities forcibly dismantled tents and prevented the event from proceeding as planned.
The police justified their actions by claiming that the ULMWP lacked proper permits and was deemed to be against the state. Heram Sector Police Chief, AKP Frengky Rumbiak, urged the crowd to refrain from actions that could be perceived as harmful and emphasised compliance with state regulations. ULMWP Executive Secretary Mr Markus Haluk responded that he had informed the police of their plans, underlining that only notification, not permission, was required to hold a peaceful assembly.
Mr Haluk condemned the police’s actions as an infringement on democratic space in West Papua, highlighting the ongoing struggle for freedom of expression and assembly in the region. He expressed disappointment at the state’s heavy-handed approach and vowed to coordinate with the ULMWP board to address the situation. Haluk’s remarks underscored the broader issue of state suppression of dissent in West Papua and the need for continued advocacy for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the face of such challenges.
While the freedom of peaceful assembly is widely respected in Indonesia, indigenous Papuans have been looking back on a history of government repression. The police restrict the freedom of peaceful assembly for Papuans and solidarity groups not only in West Papua but also on other islands of the archipelago, mainly if the protesters raise aspirations for self-determination, human rights violations, militarisation, or racial discrimination of indigenous Papuans.
National law requires protestors to inform the police beforehand about an assembly, but protesters do not require a permit from the police. The Indonesian police continue to use the lack of a “police acknowledgment letter” (“Surat Tanda Terima Pemberitahuan” STTP) in response to a “notification letter for a demonstration” as justification to declare demonstrations illegal. Police institutions – in and outside of West Papua – refuse to issue “police acknowledgment letters” (STTP) to prevent particular Papuan civil society groups from enjoying their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
Organisations such as the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat), the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), the Papuan Student Alliance (AMP), and The Indonesian Peoples’ Front for West Papua (FRI WP) are among the groups facing repression, intimidation, and prosecution. Their members and supporters were arbitrarily arrested during peaceful public protests, internal assembly meetings, and preparatory activities, like the distribution of leaflets. Arrests during peaceful assemblies have been accompanied by security force violence against the protesters.