West Papuans plan independence protest

Issue 

West Papuans plan independence protest

Thousands of pro-independence West Papuans held a "birthday celebration" for leader Theys Eluay in the Sentani subdistrict of the capital, Jayapura, on November 12. Local residents say that between 3000 and 5000 people participated; Indonesian police claimed it was just 300.

Eluay had obtained police permission for the birthday gathering, but participants told journalists that it was used to plan the raising of independence flags across West Papua on December 1.

On that date in 1969, protesters first raised the red, blue and white flag with a star that symbolises the movement for freedom from Indonesian rule. Raising this flag is now illegal in West Papua.

Indonesia occupied West Papua, a Dutch colony, in 1963. The region was renamed Irian Jaya and Indonesian sovereignty was formalised by the United Nations in 1969 after a coerced ballot in which only around 1000 "representatives" of the people voted.

Peter El, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Institute in Jayapura, told the media that on November 11 residents in Timika district had raised the independence flag in front of the Three Kings Catholic Church. "The people have set up tents to guard the flag from being taken down by the authorities", he said. They plan to stay there until December 1.

In an interview with Radio Australia on November 12, human rights activist Dani Yomaki said the November 12 rally was organised by Eluay to build momentum for the December 1 flag raising. "Theys was asking the Papuans who are now working with the government to not work, starting today, until the first of December", he said.