Prima Gumilang, Jakarta – As many as 44 members of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) and several other organisations were arrested on Wednesday April 4 and are now being detained at the Jayapura municipal police headquarters (Mapolres).
They were arrested for allegedly planning to hold a West Papua independence declaration on Thursday March 5.
KNPB general chairperson Victor Yeimo has denied the charges and stated that they had never planned to hold any such declaration. Victor said however that police had gone ahead and arrested the activists, including the KNPB secretary general, without any clear grounds.
“Forty-four people were arrested, three women, 41 men, including KNPB members and students”, Victor told CNN Indonesia by phone.
The arrests took place near the Waena III state housing complex (Perumnas Tiga) in Jayapura. According to Victor, the KNPB’s office was vandalised by police who also arrested several students that were still in a nearby student dormatory.
“There was no action whatsoever taken by the KNPB and the students, but the police still just came straight in”, he said.
Victor said that on the day before, Tuesday March 3, the KNPB held a press conference to announce that they were not responsible for leaflets advertising a “West Papuan Republic Independence Declaration Preparation Committee”.
“We never distributed them. We also urged the public not to be provoked, but it turned out that today the police came straight here and raided our office”, said Victor.
Victor stated that none of the organisations fighting for Papuan independence have established a West Papuan Republic Independence Declaration Preparation Committee. Victor also urged police to immediately arrest the actors that published and distributed the leaflets.
In the leaflets it states that that the West Papuan Republic Independence Declaration Preparation Committee will convene at the Kamwolker River Square (Perumnas Tiga) on Thursday at 8am. The leaflet also mentioned the names of the three people who would be the public coordinators of the committee by affixing their signatures.
“The source of the declaration is not cited, but there are three people whose signatures are there. We’re asking the police to arrest these three people”, Victor asserted.
The KNPB is currently advocating for the release of those arrested and have sent a lawyer to assist them.
Victor suspects that the latest arrests are closely connected with an exchange of fire between the TNI (Indonesian military) and the armed wing of the Free Papua Organisation (OPM), the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) in Banti, Tembagapura, Timika regency. Two people on both sides were killed during the incident.
“This is part of a police plot to divert [public] attention away from the Freeport issue where a huge operation is being conducted against the TPNPB”, he said.
The OPM, which was involved in the armed contact with the TNI, is indeed demanding that the PT Freeport Indonesia gold-and-copper mine in Timika be closed down, which they see as the root of the problems in Papua.
In addition to this, Victor also suspects that the arrests are linked to the upcoming election of regional heads in Papua. He said that the KNPB will not be taking part in the election and is calling on the people to do the same.
As of sending this article to print, Papua regional police public relations division chief Senior Commissioner Ahmad Kamal has yet to respond to phone calls from CNN Indonesia asking for a response to the arrests.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was KNPB Bantah Deklarasi Kemerdekaan Papua, 44 Aktivis Ditahan.]