An international human rights group is calling for urgent action after two West Papuan students, one still a child, were allegedly beaten and detained for peaceful protest.
Amnesty International last week raised an alert over the jailing of Robert Yelemaken, a 16-year-old high school student and Oni Wea, a 21-year old university student, who are involved with the pro-independence movement the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB).
The two students were arrested last Friday at 3 am in the Manokwari district after being caught painting pro-independence graffiti.
Amnesty says there have been reports “their faces are now swollen, lips are bleeding and they have pains in their chest”, raising concerns the two students – Robert is still only a child under international law – have been tortured or ill-treated by police.
“According to local sources they were beaten and kicked by two arresting police officers,” Amnesty International says.
“Robert Yelemaken was allegedly hit on the head and face with a rifle butt. Both were reportedly forced to roll in a drain filled with dirty water and were drenched in paint.
“They were then taken to the Manokwari District Police Station where the beatings allegedly continued.”
Amnesty is calling for the immediate release of the boys, saying they are prisoners of conscience.
“They were arrested and remain in detention solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression,” the group says.
There are currently dozens of political prisoners in West Papuan jails, jailed for attending or organising peaceful political protests or activities calling for independence from Indonesia.
Some have been jailed for raising the pro-independence “Morning Star” flag.
While ethnically Melanesian, the resource-rich West Papua province has been under Indonesian control after the Dutch withdrew in the 1960s.
In 1969, about 1,000 Papuans out of a population of 800,000 were hand-picked to vote in the “Act of Free Choice”, which is commonly referred to as the “Act of No Free Choice”.
There are concerns they were threatened or coerced into voting for West Papua to become part of Indonesia.
Since then there have been constant concerns over human rights violations in the province and brutal and violent crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations.
According to prominent human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson “hundreds of thousands of people have been killed or disappeared by the Indonesian forces.”
West Papuan activists and some academics refer to it as a genocide.
“Peaceful activists who dare to speak out against human rights abuse, or more sensitively for Indonesia, raise concerns about asking for a referendum for self-determination, are routinely arrested, beaten and tortured,” Ms Robinson says.
Despite West Papua being one of our nearest neighbours, the human rights violations in the region have failed to raise the ire of Australia or the international community.
The only country to be consistently in support of West Papuan freedom is the South Pacific island of Vanuatu, where opposition to West Papuan independence can lead to the toppling of Prime Ministers.
One of the reasons for the silence is the fact Indonesia has long prohibited international journalists from entering the province.
Last week two French journalists were arrested while allegedly being in the company of separatists and were detained in the highland town of Wamena.
Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat, from the television channel Arte now face a sentence of up to five years in jail after being accused of reporting without valid visas.
Human Rights Watch’s Andreas Harsono told ABC Radio “the charge is misusing their tourist visa to do journalism work”.
“The police said they were suspected of trying to attract international attention on Papua, to raise the rebellion in Papua.”
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