Six killed as independence protests spread across West Papua

August 29, 2019

At least six West Papuan protesters and one Indonesian military officer have been killed and several others including children wounded after authorities clashed with demonstrators demanding independence.

A source at one of the demonstrations on Wednesday in Papua province’s Deiyai regency said at least six Papuans were killed.

News website Kompas quoted Papua’s regional police chief, General Rudolf Rodja, as saying one military officer was killed and two police officers were injured during clashes with protesters.

Demonstrations have raged throughout West Papua for more than a week.

Because of an internet shutdown has meant media organisations face difficulty in gathering and verifying news from the area.

Demonstrator demands

Pastor Santon Tekege from Papua province’s Catholic Church attended the rally in Deiyai, alongside children, women, and elders.

He told Al Jazeera he witnessed Wednesday’s shooting in Deiyai, where the protesters earlier raised the banned pro-independence Morning Star flag.

He said he saw bodies lying in front of the Deiyai regent’s office. It was unclear if the individuals were injured or dead.

Santon said the crowd of Papuan demonstrators first gathered on Wednesday morning at the Wagete district of Tigi, the capital city of Deiyai regency.

One of the protesters then handed over a statement to Deiyai’s regent, Ateng Edowai, stating their grievances against the government.

During the rally, Santon reported seeing a drone hovering over the crowd. Then the police and military started dispersing the protesters by firing tear gas.

As the crowd became agitated, the authorities then started shooting protesters, said Santon.

“I ran to the jungle to save myself,” he said. “Wagete is now empty. Everyone fled to the jungle including the wounded. The situation is very intense now.”

‘Unlawful deaths’

Yones Douw, a pastor from Kingmi Church in the neighbouring regency of Nabire, told Al Jazeera villagers from Deiyai reported to him they witnessed two children being shot and one died. It was unclear if the fatality was included in the six people reported killed.

Arnold Belau, chief editor of Suara Papua publication, also reported hearing gunshots while calling his source.

Meanwhile, human rights lawyer Veronica Koman said the military blocked the road to Deiyai from neighbouring Paniai regency, where thousands of demonstrators also marched on Wednesday.

The ongoing protests in West Papua region first erupted last week after Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java, reportedly faced mistreatment and racist taunts by police.