Papuans protest flag-flying ban PDF Afdrukken

There have been a number of serious incidents in West Papua in the past few months. A ban on flying the Morning Star flag was reinforced by a presidential decree late last year as 1 December, the day regarded by Papuans as their national day, approached. More than a dozen Papuans were arrested in March this year following demonstrations in Manokwari. A Papua-based lawyer was arrested and is now on trial for forwarding an SMS message about possible dangers confronting Papuans.

The 1st of December is celebrated every year by Papuans at home and abroad. It marks the day in 1961 when Papuan representatives agreed a Constitution for a future independent state and adopted a national flag, the Morning Star flag, Kejora, and a national anthem for the first time. Their homeland was still a Dutch colony at the time and the Dutch authorities had indicated their support for Papua to become an independent state. Celebrations of the historic day always consist of unfurling the Kejora, as well as holding communal prayers and rallies in favour of peace and dialogue.

Raising the Papuan flag was a serious offence under Suharto. Of the four succeeding presidents, it was only Abdurrahman Wahid who adopted a more conciliatory approach and announced that the flag could be flown on condition that the Indonesian national flag was alongside. However, his successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri reversed this decision, declaring that flying the flag was illegal. This policy has continued to the present day.

On 1 December 2004, two Papuans defied the ban and have paid for their defiance with very heavy sentences. Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage were tried for the action five months later. Yusak Pakage was sentenced to ten years while Filep Karma was sentenced to fifteen years. Both men are still serving their sentences. [See TAPOL Bulletin, No 179, July 2005]

While these two men are serving heavy sentences for engaging in a peaceful action, security force officers continue to enjoy impunity for a host of crimes perpetrated over the years in West Papua.

More acts of defiance in 2007
Last year, the government of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reiterated the ban on flying the flag. The promulgation of Presidential Decree 77/2007 banning the use of unofficial local symbols has sparked a series of protest demonstrations and demands for a referendum on the territory’s future.

A report from Front Pepera, the United Front of Struggle of the People of West Papua, announced on 1 December last year that the Morning Star flag was held aloft in Timika for two hours in the morning until a unit of Brimob police turned up and pulled it down. Fifteen people involved in the ceremony were arrested. The flag was raised in other places too. In Mimika a large crowd of people hoisted the flag at dawn on 1 December but within minutes, the police arrived and pulled the flag down; six people were arrested.

It remains to be seen whether those who were arrested on these occasions will go on trial and, if so, whether they too will be given harsh sentences.

Focus now on protesting against PP 77/2007
In a departure from normal practice, the latest demonstrations have been devoted to protesting against the presidential decree. Those participating have been enjoined not to fly the flag.

Two demonstrations were held in Manokwari in March this year for the specific purpose of protesting against presidential decree 77/2007. Taking the lead was an organisation called the West Papua National Assembly. Although some of those at the demonstration raised the flag, the organisers made a point of stressing that it should not have been unfurled. They stressed moreover that the demonstrations had been held with police permission.

Two Papuans who have taken responsibility for the protest demonstrations are now in police custody. One is Frans Kareth, an economist, arrested following a demonstration on 3 March and immediately subjected to police interrogation. He was informed that he was likely to be charged under several articles of the Criminal Code, including Articles 106, 107 and 110 which criminalise acts of separatism and subversion. The maximum penalty under Article 106 is life while the maximum penalty for subversion is fifteen years.

The other person arrested and now likely to face serious charges is Jack Wanggai. His arrest occurred following the second demonstration on 13 March. One of the organisers of this demonstration, Daviid Rumbiak of the Manokwari Law School, said that introducing PP77 would not help solve the problems in West Papua. Several leaders of the student council of the Law School involved in organising the demonstration said that it had not been held to unfurl the Kejora flag and they regretted that some of those present had done so. Nevertheless, they said that they would take responsibility for what had happened. All those demonstrators who had raised flag were immediately arrested, including a youngster aged 15 years.

One of the demands made during this second demonstration was for the Papuan People’s Assembly, the MRP, to be disbanded, on the grounds that it had proven ineffective. The demonstrators also complained bitterly about the government’s failure to implement Law No 21, 2001 on Special Autonomy for Papua. In both demonstrations, there were calls for a referendum.

When Jack Wanggai turned up at the second demonstration, he said he had already received two summonses from the police. He delivered a speech and then handed himself over to the police. His lawyer, Yan Christian Warinussy, said the police should be aware that the international community is watching what is happening in West Papua.