Indonesian police ban violent protests, separatism in Papua

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian police have banned violent demonstrations and speeches promoting separatism in the easternmost region of Papua, which had been rocked by protests for two weeks, its security chief and the state news agency said on Monday.

A man looks at damaged vehicles in front of Indonesia's Customs and Excise office after a riot in Jayapura, Papua, Indonesia, August 30, 2019 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Indrayadi TH/ via REUTERS

Papua has been racked by the most serious civil unrest in years over perceived racial and ethnic discrimination. Some protesters have also been demanding a referendum on independence, something the government has ruled out.

The Papuan police issued six notices over the weekend, which included the ban on demonstrations and a list of criminal charges that could be brought against violators, chief security minister Wiranto told a news conference.

“Any person or organization is prohibited from carrying out or spreading separatism in expressing opinions in public and violation of this will result in strict action and law enforcement,” state news agency Antara reported, citing the notices.

Police also said in the notices that spreading fake news was a punishable crime, Antara reported.

Police have arrested 41 people in several Papuan cities for damaging public facilities and looting, Wiranto said.

Separately, two students were arrested in Jakarta and charged for treason.

Four Australians who allegedly took part in a pro-independence demonstration in the city of Sorong, West Papua, would be deported, immigration authorities said in a statement.

About 6,000 police and military personnel have been flown in to Papua, national police chief Tito Karnavian said, reinforcing the already heavy military presence in a region that has endured decades of mostly low-level separatist conflict.

“If necessary I will deploy more troops,” Karnavian told reporters in televised remarks, adding that he planned to spend most of this week in the region.

Security was being maintained throughout Papua on Monday as police worked with influential people in the region to control the situation, said national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo.

Television footage showed people cleaning up a partly charred building that protesters torched in the provincial capital of Jayapura.

Antara said four people were killed in Jayapura during protests last week, citing the city’s police chief.

At least one soldier and five civilians were killed in the rural town of Deiyai last week, among the deadliest of the latest demonstrations, Papuan police spokesman Ahmad Kamal said.

The authorities and activists have different accounts of what happened in Deiyai.

An internet blackout across Papua has made verifying information difficult.

Wiranto promised to withdraw the additional troops and lift an internet curb “when the situation returns completely to normal.”

Papua and West Papua provinces, the resource-rich western part of the island of New Guinea, were a Dutch colony that was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticized U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.

The spark for the latest protests was a racist slur against Papuan students, who were hit by tear gas in their dormitory and detained in the city of Surabaya on the main island of Java on Aug. 17, Indonesia’s Independence Day, for allegedly desecrating a national flag.

Reporting by Jakarta bureau; Editing by Robert Birsel & Simon Cameron-Moore