Indonesia’s police Friday arrested eight Papuan university students on charges of treason for raising the banned “Morning Star” flag in a demonstration of the independence of the Papua region in Indonesia.
The region was liberated from Dutch colonial occupation on December 1, 1963 which is considered by many Papuans to be their ‘independence day’. Commemorating the event, students marched to the Papua Police Headquarters and raised the flag at Cenderawasih Sports Center in Jayapura City.
The independence of Papua and West Papua has for long been mired in controversy. In a UN-sanctioned referendum, Papua and West Papua fell under Indonesian governance in 1969. The “Morning Star” flag is used to symbolise Papuan sovereignty by those who contest that decision’s legitimacy. Indonesia’s government maintains that the original vote reflected the will of the people.
Ahmed Musthofa Kamal, head of public relations of the Indonesia police, has stated that the eight suspects were involved in an illegal act of treason and could face imprisonment for life. Treason is punishable in Indonesia under Articles 106 and 110 of the Criminal Code. Previously, Papua independence activist Felip Karma served an 11 year sentence for raising the outlawed flag.
A banner seized after the protest read “Self Determination for West Papua! Stop militarism in West Papua. Welcoming UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to West Papua”, local news outlet Suara Papua reported.