Charles Maniani, Manokwari – Hundreds of people in Manokwari from the Papuan People's Solidarity (SRP) once again articulated their opposition to the extension of Special Autonomy in Papua and other demands on the morning of Tuesday May 25.
The protest however was forcibly broken up by a joint unit of TNI (Indonesian military) and Polri (Indonesian police) and over one hundred demonstrators were arrested and taken to the West Papua regional police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) command headquarters.
Action coordinator Arnold Halitopo said that the arrests took place at around 7.15 am when the demonstrators were forced into police tactical vehicles under tight security.
"Our action was held at five points in Manokwari, first in front of the University of Papua campus, second at the AMD Amban, third at Reremi Puncak, fourth at Fanindi and fifth at the Wosi traffic light intersection. This is our second demo to deliver our demands to the West Papua People's Council (MRPB). The protest was broken up by police. Indeed since 7 in the morning hundreds of fully armed soldiers and police were closely guarding all points. One hundred and forty six of us were taken to the Mako Brimob. [We were] held there all day then released at 5 pm", he explained to Suara Papua on Tuesday.
The demands of the follow up action, said Halitopo, were expressing their opposition to Special Autonomy (Otsus) and for the right to self-determination to be given to the Papuan nation.
Halitopo said that several people were reportedly injured when police forced them into the vehicles. "Comrades were injured when getting in to the vehicles. Several people had bruised faces because of the violence by police", he said.
Halitopo also claimed that when they arrived at the Mako Brimob, the police asked the demonstrators for their fingerprints.
"I asked, why must we get our fingerprints taken? Our action wasn't held here, right, we wanted to go to the MRPB. What we were doing is in accordance with the prevailing regulations on demonstrations. But we were asked for our identities, full names, parents and employment. I don't know what for", said Halitopo.
According to Halitopo, the action was a follow up to an earlier protest on Friday May 21 which had intended to rally at the MRPB but was cancelled. They already had a permit for the demonstration and calls for a peaceful action had been circulated. But Halitopo admitted to being surprised that the police blocked them from protesting for reasons which were unclear. It was later said that they didn't comply with Covid-19 health protocols.
Runi Seleng, one of the speakers at the action, said that after being transported to the Mako Brimob they were intimidated by police.
"We were intimidated, including being interrogated about the field coordinator and who was responsible for the action, then they asked us to testify about Papuan activists who were said to be the key actors. But we said that it was purely an action by the Papuan People's Solidarity who are aware that Otsus has failed", explained Seleng.
After negotiations with police, four MRPB members met with the detained demonstrators. They wanted to hear their demands at the Mako Brimob, but the protesters insisted that it must be at the MRPB offices in accordance with an agreement the MRPB speaker and demonstrators on Friday (May 21). In addition to this, the protesters were determined to hold the follow up demonstration.
"The people's aspirations have not yet been received [by the MRPB]. Despite being intimidated and terrorised, we will come back again until our aspirations are heard", said Seleng.
Following the arrests a number of sympathisers occupied the MRPB offices until late afternoon asking the MRPB to immediately secure the detainees' release. At 5.30 pm, the MRPB confirmed that they had been released and had returned home.
"We came here to ask the MRPB how to get our comrades released", said Meki Soniare. Following this, MRPB representative Herry Rumbin admitted that several sympathisers had come to urge that their colleagues be released.
"Several of our members were delegated to negotiate with the Brimob unit commander and the Manokwari district police chief to release them. Earlier we received a report from the chairperson that they were released at 5 pm", he explained.
Rumbin added that there were no untoward actions taken against the demonstrators aside from a health examination. Some were asked to undergo a swab test but several refused. "There were no other instructions conveyed, only about health protocols", he said.
According to Rumbin, the people's aspirations could have been heard earlier from the coordinator, but the protesters were deemed to have violated health protocols and were arrested. Because of this the MRPB has not yet received them.
Speaking separately, Manokwari regional police chief Assistant Superintendent Dadang Kurniawan confirmed that a group of people holding a demonstration without following Covid-19 health protocols were arrested.
"We have continued the Mansinam [Island] Lebaran [holidays] Ketupat Operation [to prevent people from travelling to their hometowns] with routine activities which have been upgraded to focus on health protocols. In pursuing their duties, there was a group of people who had gathered, it was quite a large number. We made an approach to the group and have carried out health protocols at Mako Brimob and this has been done even though several refused", explained Kurniawan.
Kurniawan explained that the police acted on strong grounds. The group of people did not obey health protocols put into effect by the government during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"So, they weren't arrested. Rather we reminded them about the importance of health protocols such as not forming crowds, wearing a mask and so forth. As of late afternoon there was a total of around 126 people, they have already met with MRPB [representatives] and we sent them home okay", he explained.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Ratusan Pendemo di Manokwari Ditahan 10 Jam di Markas Brimob".]