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West Papuan independence movement resurges

Just north of Darwin lies West Papua, the Indonesian province whose fight for independence has returned to the spotlight. Although the West Papuan independence movement has existed for over 60 years, it has not attracted much recent international attention. Until now.

17 August marks Indonesia’s own independence from the Netherlands in 1945. This year, Indonesian police set-off tear gas and stormed a dormitory where they arrested over 40 Papuan students over alleged damage to an Indonesian flag. The incident took place only one day after a nationalist mob barricaded the students in the dormitory and were filmed shouting insults of “monkey” at the Papuans trapped inside.

Protests erupted the following day which involved the burning of Indonesian government buildings. These protests have since spread and manifested into a renewed cry for West Papuan independence. The protesters see the 1969 ‘Act of Free Choice’ – a vote which determined the future of West Papuan autonomy – as a sham. Now they are calling for a new independence vote and for the United Nations to play a part.

Journalists have found reports of unrest in West Papua difficult to verify due to an internet blackout. The blackout was partially lifted on 5 September but parts of West Papua continued to be closely monitored along with a strong Indonesian military presence. This is certainly not the first time that the Indonesian government has made lives difficult for journalists in West Papua. In 2014, Indonesia briefly detained French journalists Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat.

In Canberra, a “pilgrimage for West Papua” on 9 September saw West Papuan activists present a petition at Parliament House asking for, “the Australian government to support the resolution prepared by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua to list West Papua with the UN Decolonisation Committee.” The Greens’ leader Richard Di Natale tabled the petition in the Senate the same day.


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