Pacific News Minute: West Papuans Charged with Treason after Organizing Protest for Independence

Dec 22, 2016

Credit AK Rockefeller / Flickr

On Monday, Indonesian authorities arrested more than five hundred protesters in West Papua. Most were released the same day, but now there’s news that two activists have been charged with treason, which is punishable by up to fifteen years in prison. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

On December 19th, 1961, Indonesia’s President Sukarno sent troops to annex the western half of New Guinea, amid the collapse of the Dutch colonial empire.  55 years later, an independence movement in what’s now known as West Papua, charges that Indonesia seized the territory illegally and demands a UN plebiscite.  Monday’s demonstrations in 14 cities were just the latest in a long series.  By one count, more than five thousand people have been arrested at peaceful demonstrations this year alone.  Indonesia regards calls for self-determination as treasonous separatism, and lawyer Gustaf Gawer told the Jakarta Post that his clients, Hosea Yemo and Ismael Alua now face allegations of treason and provoking others to commit treason. The two are members of the West Papua National Committee, which helped organize the protests.

The issue of West Papua has paralyzed the Melanesian Spearhead Group, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and the Kanak Liberation Front of New Caledonia want full membership for West Papua’s United Liberation Movement, while Fiji and Papua New Guinea back Indonesia. This week, MSG foreign Ministers are meeting in Port Vila after a summit meeting to decide the issue was postponed yet again. Vanuatu’s Prime Minister, Charlot Salwai told West Papuan activists that Vanuatu cannot be completely free of its colonial bondage, until all of Melanesia is free.