Peaceful 1 December commemorations responded with arbitrary arrests and violence against protesters

December 1st marks a historic date for many Papuans. Every year, West Papuans worldwide commemorate the 1st of December 1961. The Morning Star Flag, which many Papuans consider the most important symbol of cultural identity, was first raised on that date, before the territory came under the administration of the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) on 1 October 1962.

As in past years, commemorations of this historic event occurred this year across many cities in the Papuan Provinces and Indonesian cities outside of West Papua. In West Papua, flag-raising ceremonies and peaceful protests were reported in the major cities and the regencies Jayapura, Intan Jaya, Mamberamo Tengah, Manokwari, Nduga, Paniai, and Sorong. The Papuan Student Alliance AMP and Papua solidarity groups, such as the Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-WP), organised peaceful protests in the cities of Jakarta, Denpasar, Jogyakarta, Makassar, Manado, Ternate, and Kupang.

On 20 November 2023, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) chairman, Mr Menase Tabuni, called upon people in West Papua to commemorate the 1 December peacefully through cultural activities, prayers, and non-violent rallies. Meanwhile, Sebby Sambom, the spokesperson of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNP), declared that the TPNPB would commemorate the date by holding flag ceremonies in various regencies across West Papua (see photos below, source: TPNPB). However, the security situation in many regencies remained tense after five security force personnel were killed during armed clashes in Nduga and Maybrat on 30 November 2023.

Several peaceful commemorations were dispersed or accompanied by arbitrary arrests and acts of violence against the protesters. The police closely monitored public protests and commemoration events. The Jayawijaya District Police and the military announced one day before the commemorations, on 30 November 2023, that they had mobilised 450 security forces to anticipate the commemorations.

In the Indonesian cities of Ternate, Maluku Utara Province, and Denpasar, Bali Province, police and military officers reportedly prevented the protesters from gathering at assembly locations. Moreover, activists reported acts of intimidation and harassment against activists organising peaceful assemblies. This situation not only violates fundamental human rights but also raises concerns about the broader state of democracy as well as the respect, protection, and fulfillment of human rights obligations in Indonesia according to international law.

Sorong, Papua Barat Daya Province: Police officers disperse peaceful protest in Sorong with teargas

Protesters gathered around 10:00 am next to the Ramayana in Klademak, Sorong City. The protest was officially registered by the Papuan Peoples Alliance (ARP). The rally was closely monitored by police officers (see photos below, source: independent HRDs). The officers forcefully dispersed a crowd of protesters around 1:10 pm by firing tear gas grenades at the crowd. Two protesters were reportedly arrested. At least one protester sustained bruises on the body after being hit by a teargas grenade (see videos below, source: independent HRDs).

According to information received, the police pushed the crowd back into a nearby street around 1:00 pm, arguing that the crowd should provide the space for a planned Christmas parade. Despite following the officers’ instructions, the police insisted that protesters must disperse. As the crowd refused to leave, the police indiscriminately fired teargas grenades into the protesters.

Human rights organisations, such as the Papuan Legal Aid Institute (LBH Papua), represent the view that police actions violate the freedom of expression guaranteed under international law and the Indonesian constitution. Moreover, human rights defenders say the police officers used excessive force to disperse the protest instead of using proportionate non-violent measures to achieve their objective.

The Papua Barat Regional Police spokesperson, Commissioner Adam Erwindi, declared in a written statement that police officers dispersed the crowd because the protesters had allegedly thrown stones at officials after instructing them to disperse immediately.

Case information:

Police officers disperse peaceful protest in Sorong, 1 December 2023

Mamberamo Tengah Regency, Papua Pegunungan Province: Police officers intimidate protesters and ban Morning Star symbols

The Mamberamo Tengah Police Chief and Deputy-Chief led a joint police force operation at the local branch office of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), where people had come together to commemorate the 1st December. Police officers went to the location at 8:30 pm and wanted to disrupt a prayer session. The activists were allowed to hold the commemoration after a discussion between the police officials and the activists. However, the police reportedly complained about a Morning Star symbol on the entrance door of the Secretariat. The vice police chief gave the order to paint over the Morning Star symbol on the front door (see photos below, source: KNPB).

Case information:

Police officers coming to the KNPB Secretariat in Mamberamo Tengah on 1 December 2023

Kupang, Nusa Tenggara Timur Province: Police officers watch nationalist groups beating Papuan protesters

In the city of Kupang, members of the Papuan Student Alliance (AMP), the Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI WP), and supporters gathered at 9:00 am. They began holding orations on the colonial history of West Papua. Several police officers guarded the protest while plainclothes officers monitored the peaceful rally.

At 9:15 am, about 50 members of the nationalist mass organisations (Ormas) Garda Flobamora and Garuda approached the students. They began a heated discussion with the protesters, calling on them to stop the protest immediately. The students refused to disperse, emphasizing their constitutional rights and the universal principles of freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly.

Around 9:20 am, Garuda and Garda Flobamora members assaulted the students, punching them on their heads and bodies and trying to drag individual protesters away from the crowd. Videos recorded during the attack show that the police present failed to protect the students from the physical assault (see photos below, source: AMP). At least three protesters sustained bruises in the face and body as a result of the attack (see photos below, source: AMP). The protesters remained peaceful despite the assault.

At 9:40 am, police officers dispersed the protest, reportedly arresting 21 protesters. The students were forced to enter a truck while the beatings continued. The students were temporarily detained at the Kupang District police station. At the police station, police officers interrogated the protesters. A Papuan police officer allegedly punched a Papuan student during detention. All were released without charges.

Following the incident, Indonesian human rights organisations and observers in and outside of West Papua strongly condemned the violence against the student groups, calling upon the Nusa Tenggara Timur Regional Police to immediately take legal steps against the perpetrators of violence. Moreover, the organisations reminded the police of their duty to safeguard peaceful assemblies and take disciplinary measures against officers who fail to do so.

Case information:

Protesters with injuries after being attacked by nationalist groups in Kupang on 1 December 2023

Makassar, Sulawesi Selatan Province: Police obstruct students in front of Papuan student dormitory

About 350 police officers prevented dozens of Papuan students from conducting a peaceful rally from the Papuan student dormitory to the Mandala Monument of West Irian Liberation.  The AMP and FRI WP had registered the protest in accordance with national law. Despite following legal procedures, police officers blocked the crowd in front of the dormitory on Lanto Daeng Pasewang Street. The situation temporarily threatened to escalate as the Papuan students tried to push their way through (see videos below, source: AMP).

The protest remained peaceful after the students decided to hold peaceful orations and sing songs in front of the dormitory. The rally continued to be closely monitored by police officers. The students were able to carry out the protest without interference from authorities.   

Papuan students trying to push their way through security force personnel in Makassar, 1 December 2023

Ternate, Maluku Utara Province: Authorities prevent peaceful protest and intimidate activists

In the city of Ternate, members of the military and the police not only obstructed the planned peaceful but also carried out acts of intimidation and harassment of individual AMP and Fri WP activists. In the days leading up to the commemoration, the police expressed disapproval of the planned action, and individuals associated with the event were subjected to constant monitoring by authorities and residents.

On the day of the commemoration, when participants wanted to gather at the meeting point, the authorities and residents forcibly blocked the protesters (see video below, source: AMP). The security forces stopped a vehicle carrying participants, confiscated the keys of the truck bringing protesters to the meeting spot, and detained the driver.

Furthermore, activists from Ternate highlighted the surveillance, intimidation, and threats by security forces at the university campus, where the participants sought refuge after the failed protest. The presence of intelligence officers, campus security, and the threat of involving villagers to harm the protesters further underscores the severe infringement on the freedom of assembly and expression.

Case information:

Resident preventing Papuan students from walking to the assembly point, ternate, 1 December 2023