JAKARTA – Pro-independence demonstrations took a violent turn in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua Monday during protests against the harassment and arrest of students in Surabaya city over the weekend.
Thousands of people took part in the protests in these provinces in the eastern part of the archipelago which have witnessed armed conflicts and a secessionist movement for decades.
In the capital of West Papua, Manokwari, demonstrators set fire to the legislative council building and cars and blocked streets, according to images broadcast by local television channels and videos of activists accessed by EFE.
In Papua’s capital, Jayapura, thousands drove through the city on motorcycles demanding the independence of the two provinces.
Authorities have asked non-Papuan residents to stay in their homes and have not reported any clashes with the protesters so far, National Police Chief Tito Karnavian said in a televised address.
The protests were called after the arrest of 43 college students, whose dormitories in the city of Surabaya in Java were surrounded by Indonesian nationalists on Friday and Saturday for allegedly disrespecting the country’s flag.
The Indonesian nationalists shouted racist slurs and threatened pro-independence Papuans while, at noon on Saturday, the police fired tear gas into the dorms to force the students out and arrested them for a few hours.
According to Amnesty International, Indonesian security forces have killed 95 people, 85 of them indigenous, between 2010 and 2018 at pro-independence political events and social protests in the two restive Papuan provinces, without any of the cases being taken to civil courts.
The two provinces are located on the western half of the island of New Guinea, which belongs to Indonesia and is rich in natural resources and has been the site of a separatist conflict since its independence from the Netherlands.
The eastern side belongs to the Republic of Papua New Guinea.