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Indonesian authorities arrest Papuan independence figure

Catholic Church leaders in Indonesia’s easternmost Papua and West Papua provinces have earlier called for a truce to end the conflict

Indonesian authorities have arrested Papuan independence leader Victor Yeimo over accusations that he orchestrated some of the most serious civil unrest in decades that broke out in 2019.

Tension has reignited in recent weeks in Indonesia’s easternmost provinces as President Joko Widodo called for a crackdown after a senior intelligence figure was shot dead late last month.

Catholic Church leaders in Indonesia’s easternmost Papua and West Papua provinces in the region have earlier expressed alarm over the decision to tag Papuan separatists groups as “terrorists.”

They said military intervention, especially after the tagging, “needs to be seriously reassessed” because it can end up “fueling violence even more.”

Yeimo, 38, international spokesman of the West Papua National Committee, was arrested in the provincial capital of Jayapura on Sunday, May 9.

Police accuse Yeimo of being the “mastermind” behind the civil unrest and of committing treason, as well as inciting violence and social unrest.

Separatist groups, including the West Papua National Liberation Army, have claimed responsibility for attacks on military targets, but have also been accused of attacking unarmed civilians.

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Emanuel Gobay, one of a group of Papuan lawyers representing Yeimo, said his client had not yet been officially charged. Treason can carry a sentence of life in jail.

Protests erupted in Indonesia’s provinces of Papua and West Papua, on the island of New Guinea – collectively known as Papua – for several weeks in August 2019.

The sometimes violent unrest erupted after a mob taunted Papuan students in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second city on the island of Java, with racial epithets, calling them “monkeys,” over accusations they had desecrated a national flag.

The 2019 protests also spurred calls for independence from Indonesia.

Papuan separatists have pushed for independence for decades, saying a 1969 vote overseen by the United Nations that brought the region under Indonesian control was illegitimate. Indonesia rejects the claims.

In a development that has alarmed rights activists, Indonesia’s chief security minister has announced that armed Papuan separatists can be legally designated “terrorists,” and prosecuted under the counterrorism law.

Yeimo’s arrest could inflame the situation further, said Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman.

“Since the news broke that he (Yeimo) was arrested, many West Papuans have already announced that they will take to the streets to demand his release,” she said. – with a report from Reuters

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