HUMAN rights activists have condemned the weekend arrest across Indonesia of hundreds of West Papuan students and activists marking what separatists consider to be the restive Indonesian province’s historical date of independence.
Among the 537 people swept up in police raids across eight cities and towns on Saturday was Australian Ronda Amy Harman, who police said would likely be deported for breaching immigration laws that prohibit tourists from participating in political activities.
Police in the east Java city of Surabaya, where Harman was arrested with 233 Papuan students, told The Australian the students were arrested for their own protection after an authorised rally earlier in the day was attacked by nationalist paramilitary groups armed with sharpened bamboo sticks and rocks. Sixteen West Papuans were injured in the attacks.
“Everyone has been released without charges except for the Australian woman who we handed over to immigration. They will decide what to do with her,” police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera said.
Surabaya immigration said there was no evidence Ms Harman had attended Saturday’s rally and denied she was in custody, but added they wanted to question her further ahead of her likely expulsion.
“We are keeping her safe because she was in a Papuan student dormitory which was surrounded by locals and people from mass organisations who were angry that the students staged a demonstration demanding Papuan independence,” Surabaya immigration chief Tarmin Setiawan said.
“We are keeping her passport and I have assigned officers to keep an eye on her. We don’t want her to get into trouble again.”
Indonesian authorities are sensitive about West Papua, a resource-rich but deeply impoverished province where a separatist insurgency has been ongoing for more than five decades.
Harman, 35, is the third Australian to be detained this year by authorities in relation to West Papua, after Sydney PhD student Belinda Lopez was arrested in August as she prepared to celebrate her honeymoon at a West Papuan cultural festival, and BBC bureau chief Rebecca Henschke was detained in February while reporting on a health and malnutrition crisis in the eastern part of the province.
The Perth activist, an Aboriginal woman who friends say has been involved in the West Papuan freedom movement for several years, was arrested with the West Papuan students in a Surabaya dormitory just before midnight on Saturday as students marked December 1, 1961, when the Papuan Morning Star flag was first raised.
Perth friend Janet Parker told The Australian Harman, who also volunteered in a Fremantle cafe for the poor, was ‘a tough nut who would be able to handle herself OK’.
Amnesty International described the weekend arrests, which included raids in West Papua and four other cities, as another ‘act of intimidation’ by Indonesian authorities against West Papuans.
Successive Indonesian governments have sanctioned the violent suppression of West Papua’s independence movement, fearing its success could encourage similar movements in other provinces.
Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights has estimated more than 10,000 people were killed in West Papua during the 32-year Suharto era, which ended in 1998.
The arrests are in stark contrast to Sunday’s rally in which close to half a million people gathered in central Jakarta to hear hardline Islamists flout strict electoral laws by issuing a thinly veiled call for followers not to vote for President Joko Widodo at presidential elections next April.