26 Oct 2022
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Buchtar Tabuni (centre) Photo: Agus Pabika - Suara Papua

Indonesian police have arrested Buchtar Tabuni, one of West Papua's most important liberation leaders, and other United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) leaders, the movement reports.

The Movement's leader Benny Wenda said Indonesia is again suppressing freedom of expression and assembly in West Papua, in an attempt to crush the spirit and commitment to the struggle.

Buchtar Tabuni is chair of the West Papua Council, and a member of the ULMWP Council Committee. His arrest was confirmed by police.

He was arrested with Bazoka Logo, Minister of Political Affairs, and Iche Murib, Minister of Women's and Children's Affairs, the ULMWP said in a statement.

The ULMWP said the trio were arrested at Tabuni's house in Jayapura, following an annual ULMWP meeting, and interrogated at a nearby police station.

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The West Papuan independence campaigner Benny Wenda at the Pacific Islands Forum summit in Tuvalu, 2019. Photo: RNZ / Jamie Tahana

"What is their crime? What possible justification can there be for this crackdown? This was after a peaceful meeting at a private residence," the statement said.

"The right to assembly is a basic human right, enshrined in the constitutions of countries around the world, including Indonesia.

Action breaches basic principles says movement

Wenda said the arrests were in breach of basic principles of international diplomacy and human rights.

Both the ULMWP and Indonesia are members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a regional political forum.

"We sit around the table together as equals. Imagine if British police arrested a Scottish parliamentarian following a peaceful meeting in their own home - there would be international outcry.

"This is the brutal reality of Indonesia's colonial occupation."

The statement said this was not the first time Tabuni had been targeted by Indonesia.

Tabuni has spent much of his life behind bars, and was previously arrested and charged with treason for his involvement in anti-racism protests in 2020.

"This is political persecution: the harshness of Buchtar's treatment is due only to his position as a respected leader of the independence struggle," said Wenda.

"History tells us that there is no such thing as a fair trial for West Papuans in Indonesia. Victor Yeimo is still gravely ill in prison, where he has been held on spurious treason charges since May 2021.

"We urgently need the assistance of all international solidarity groups and NGOs - you must pressure your governments to help secure Mr Tabuni's release, and all other West Papuan political prisoners.

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Victor Yeimo of the West Papua National Committee Photo: Info West Papua

Wenda said that the ULMWP demanded that Indonesia immediately release him with Bazoka Logo and Iche Murib.

According to Tabloid Jubi, Jayapura City police chief Senior Commander Victor Mackbon has confirmed that his office had arrested Tabuni.

He said Tabuni was arrested to "clarify the activities" held at his home.

"Buchtar Tabuni's arrival is to clarify his community gathering activities," said Mackbon.