JAKARTA – Indonesian police have confirmed the charging of eight Papuan students with treason after a demonstration this week marking what many people in the remote region regard as their own day of independence.
Amnesty International on Friday called for the release of the students, who were detained on Dec. 1 after a rally marking the 1963 end of Dutch colonial occupation of the resource-rich and remote Papua region.
Papua and West Papua came under Indonesian rule in 1969 after a controversial United Nations-sanctioned referendum that many Papuans say did not reflect the will of local people.
Discussion of Papuan independence is a sensitive issue for Indonesia’s government, which has long insisted the plebiscite was legitimate.
During Wednesday’s demonstration, students marched to a government office in Papua’s capital Jayapura and at a stadium raised the “Morning Star” flag, a symbol of independence.
“There was an act categorised as an Illegal Act perpetrated by eight suspects,” police spokesperson Ahmad Musthofa Kamal said.
Lawyers for the students, ages 18-29, in a statement said there were “discrepancies” in the law used against them.
On Friday, Amnesty International criticised the arrests, among 34 detentions this week of Papuan protesters, as well as 19 injuries sustained at demonstrations elsewhere in Indonesia.
“No one should be detained simply for peacefully expressing their political opinions,” said Amnesty’s Indonesia director Usman Hamid.
Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Amnesty’s statement.
Indonesia sentenced to prison seven Papuans in June 2020 for treason, while Papuan independence figure Filep Karma spent 11 years in prison after raising the banned flag publicly. He was released in 2015.