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Indonesia: Raise a flag, go to prison

Happy independence day in West Papua?

The central province of Maluku has also sustained a small independence movement throughout the years. Two people were just arrested last week for raising separatist flags, days before the president traveled to Ambon, Maluku’s capital, to usher in the province’s World Peace Week.

Papua, however, represents the last real threat to the country’s unity. Papua is home to the world’s largest gold mine, owned by the American company Freeport-McMoran. Shootings, which have killed several people, including one Australian, along the road leading to the mine have plagued the company in recent months. Police have blamed separatists for those attacks.

Despite its massive store of natural resources, Papua’s development lags far behind that of the rest of the country. It still lacks basic public health programs, reliable electricity and water supplies.

As a concession to independence advocates, in 2001 legislators in Jakarta passed an autonomy law aimed at giving the region more local control and a greater share of mining, gas and timber revenues. Human rights groups, however, say the law has never been fully implemented and a portion of the funds have gone missing in a web of corruption.

In a letter to a newly appointed police chief in Papua, Amnesty International called for an investigation into the series of arrests and beatings at pro-independence rallies.

“We would like to raise to your attention a pattern of unchecked human rights violations by police in the Nabire district over the last year,” the organization wrote. “We would like to request that you take the lead in ensuring that independent, impartial and effective investigations into these reports be conducted immediately.”

Human Rights Watch called for an investigation into the beating of two men arrested in November who flew a makeshift version of the Morning Star flag in front of a crowd of no more than 35 people. More than 170 people are currently in jail throughout Indonesia for raising flags and other peaceful protests, according to Human Rights Watch.

“President Yudhoyono needs to end the arrests of people for simply raising a flag,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These prosecutions fly in the face of Indonesia’s commitments to free expression.”