Four Australians deported from Indonesia for joining Papua protests

Photo by Zabur Karuru/Reuters: A Police Mobile Brigade officer stands guard at a petrol station in Jayapura in West Papua

Four Australians, write James Massola and Karuni Rompies (Brisbane Times 2 September 2019), have been deported from Indonesia, after being accused of participating in protests against Indonesia’s occupation of west Papua.

Four Australians will be deported by Indonesia after they participated in protests supporting independence for the country’s eastern-most provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Tom Baxter, 37, Cheryl Melinda Davidson, 36, Danielle Joy Hellyer, 31 and Ruth Irene Cobbold, 25, were detained by Indonesian security forces after joining protests outside the mayor’s office at Sorong in the province of West Papua on August 27.

The four Australians – Tom Baxter, Cheryl Melinda Davidson, Danielle Joy Hellyer, and Ruth Irene Cobbold

The four Australians – Tom Baxter, 37, Cheryl Melinda Davidson, 36, Danielle Joy Hellyer, 31, and Ruth Irene Cobbold, 25 – who are being deported from Indonesia pictured at Makassar airport after they had left West Papua. Credit: Tom Baxter, 37, Cheryl Melinda Davidson, 36, Danielle Joy Hellyer, 31, and Ruth Irene Cobbold, 25

They have also been hit with a six month travel ban which will prevent them from returning to Indonesia.

The two provinces of Papua and West Papua have seen weeks of protests since about 40 Papuan students in Surabaya, in East Java, were arrested for allegedly damaging the Indonesian flag on August 17, which is Indonesia’s national independence day.

Photo by the Indonesian Department of Immigration: Tom Baxter in the street

Videos circulated soon after the arrests of security forces calling the Papuan students “monkeys” and “dogs”, which triggered protests that led to the parliament and other buildings in Manokwari, the capital of West Papua province, being set on fire.

The four Australians were detained and escorted by Indonesian intelligence, police and immigration officials on a flight from Papua to Makassar on Batik Air. From there, they travelled to Denpasar, the capital of Bali.

The head of intelligence and law enforcement in the Sorong Immigration office, Cun Sudiharto, said “yes it’s true, we deported four people, Australians, this morning because they participated in the protests in front of the Sorong Mayor’s office on August 27”.

“They were holding small Morning Star flags [the flag used by the Free Papua movement] in their hands. Also, they were riding on bikes alongside the protesters.”

Cun said that one of the Australians, Davidson, spoke Indonesian and officials believed the group understood they were participating in a protest.

“They are tourists, they planned to go to Raja Ampat [a famous diving area]. They had been in Sorong since August 10.”

The four had been in Sorong since August 10 because Baxter’s boat, which had originally sailed the quartet to Maluku, another tourist destination near Papua, had broken down.

Baxter, Hellyer and Cobbold will be flown out of Bali on Monday evening at 10.25pm on Qantas flight QF44 to Sydney and they will arrive at 6.25am on Tuesday morning.

Davidson will fly out on Thursday at 3.45pm from Denpasar on a Virgin Australia flight to another Australian city.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo – who has done far more than previous presidents to improve the standard of living and invested in infrastructure in the eastern provinces – has appealed for calm, while the government has sent in additional police and blocked internet access to curb the protests.

But last week there were reports of up to six protesters killed in the clashes, which the government denied, and one member of Indonesia’s security forces was killed.

Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto, who uses one name, said late on Monday that the security situation on the ground was more under control as additional police arrived in Papua and West Papua.

He also said that five members of the military, including a commander in Surabaya, had been suspended for violating military discipline following the incident involving Papuan students in that city.

“We also take legal measures against those staging anarchic protests such as burning public facilities and government offices [in Papua and West Papua], he said.

Eighteen protesters in the West Papuan cities of Manokwari, Fakfak and Sorong had been arrested, he said, for theft and violent activities. In the Papuan capital of Jayapura, 62 people had been questioned and 28 people had been declared suspects.

He accused Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda, who lives in exile in the UK, of “making provocations from abroad”.

“They say that the Indonesian government does not handle seriously Papua and West Papua, that human rights abuses take place on a daily basis such as torture and killing. This is not true … we are serious about developing Papua,” he said.

Papua and West Papua have long demanded a referendum on independence, as occurred in East Timor in 1999, with a low-level insurgency present in the country for years.

Papua became part of Indonesia in 1969 after the so-called “act of free choice” ballot, though the circumstances of the ballot – in which just 1024 people voted and chose to remain part of Indonesia – are questionable.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed it had provided consular assistance to four Australians in Sorong. It would not provide further details, citing the privacy of the individuals.

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