A pro-independence protest in Papua has been met with a violent response by the Indonesian security forces as four demonstrators were shot by the police, prompting Amnesty International to call on the authorities to halt the excessive use of force.
On 23 October 2012, police in Manokwari, Papua opened indiscriminate fire at a gathering of some 300 protesters outside the local university in response to stones thrown by a few of the protesters. At least 11 people were injured, four of whom suffered gunshot wounds. Some protesters reported being beaten by the police. At least five police officers also suffered injuries.
“It is unacceptable that people who have gathered for a protest should have to fear for their lives. The indiscriminate use of firearms and excessive force against protesters by the security forces has to stop – it is a violation of international law.” said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director.
“This incident warrants an immediate investigation and a thorough review of police tactics during policing of demonstrations.”
Meanwhile, local journalist, Oktovianus Pogau, was punched by police officers during the demonstration as he tried to produce his press card.
The Indonesian security forces have a track record of unchecked abuses, including torture and other ill-treatment, and the use of excessive force against protesters.
“Although members of the security forces may find it challenging to face violent protesters, they should do so while respecting human rights. In particular, the use of firearms should only be a last resort to protect life,” said Arradon.
Security forces should be equipped with a range of means to allow for a differentiated use of force, as well as adequate self-defensive equipment such as shields, helmets and body armour to decrease the need to use weapons at all.
Peaceful political dissent continues to be criminalized in Papua, denying Papuans their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.
On 19 October 2012, police prevented hundreds of people who had gathered peacefully at the grave site of pro-independence leader Theys Eluay in Sentani, Jayapura. Five people were arbitrarily arrested but were released later.
“Unfortunately this is part of a long-standing pattern of authorities denying Papuans their right to peaceful protest, which together with lack of accountability for past human rights violations is fuelling resentment and lack of trust locally,” said Arradon.
These incidents come at a tense time in Papua, as Papuans have been holding public events to commemorate the first anniversary of the Third Papuan People’s Congress, a peaceful political gathering which was held from 17 to 19 October 2011. At the end of the 2011 Congress, police and military units violently dispersed participants leaving at least three people dead.
Five political activists were sentenced to three years in prison for “rebellion” after the Congress. Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.
Amnesty International takes no position whatsoever on the political status of any province of Indonesia, including calls for independence. However, the organization believes that the right to freedom of expression includes the right to peacefully advocate referendums, independence or any other political solutions that do not involve incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.