Peaceful protests against prolongation of Papuan Special Autonomy in Nabire and Timika – Police responds with mass arrests

Multiple civil society groups joining the ‘Papuan Peoples Front’ (FRP) organised peaceful protests against the prolongation of the Papuan Special Autonomy in the cities of Nabire and Timika on 23 and 24 September 2020. The activists registered the protests in advance as required, but the police in Timika and Nabire refused to issue an acknowledgement letter (STTP or ’Surat Tanda Terima Pemberitahuan’). Still, thousands of people came together to express their rejection towards the government’s plan to prolong the special autonomy status of the Indonesian provinces of Papua and Papua Barat. Instead, the protesters demanded a democratic and dignified solution through a referendum over West Papua’s political status. Yells accompanied both demonstrations for the ‘Papuan Independence’ (‘Papua Merdeka’), and protesters carried banners with Morning Star symbols. The local police in both cities responded with mass arrests. The police forcefully dispersed the rally in Timika. Human rights defenders documented a case of violence against a protester in Timika.

Demonstration in Timika

The protest in Timika, took place on 23 September 2020. Shortly after people began to gather for the demonstration, police officers dispersed the crowd. They arrested seven protesters, namely Petrus Aim, Fredy Yeimo, Ardi Murib, Dorlince Iyowau, Melvin Yogi, Penehas Nawipa and Deborius Selegani. Fredy Yeimo reportedly sustained multiple injuries as a result of excessive force which police officers applied against protesters during the crowd control operation.

The NGO Coalition for the Enforcement of Law and Human Rights in Papua released an urgent appeal. They demanded the immediate release of all protesters and the prosecution of law enforcement officials applying excessive force against the protesters. The coalition in particular criticised the police for failing to perform their obligation to respect the right to peaceful assembly and to follow the legal procedure for the registration of peaceful assembles as stipulated in the Article 10 (1), (2), (3) and Article 13 (1) a of Law No 9/1998 on the Freedom of Expressing Opinions in Public. The FRP had submitted a registration letter for the demonstration on 21 September 2020, but the police refused to issue the STTP.

Moreover, the coalition condemned the practice of unlawful arrests. The police officers who arrested the seven protesters did not show a warrant as required under International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the corresponding article 18 of the Indonesian Criminal Procedure Code (KUHAP).

The deputy Police Chief of the Mimika District police, Nyoman Punia, explained in a media interview that his men did not issue the STTP because the public gathering was against the health protocol for the prevention of COVID-19 transmissions. He claimed that his men dispersed the demonstration after protesters had allegedly thrown stones at police officers who instructed participants to wear face masks.

Peaceful protest in Nabire

On 24 September 2020, around 6.30 am, approximately 2,500 protesters gathered (see intro image) in various parts of Nabire, among them Siriwini, Karang Tumaris, Uswim, Kalibobo, SP and Wadio/Wonerejo. The different crowds wanted to unite in front of the Nabire regent’s office, but police officers directed the masses to the Nabire District Police Headquarters.

Human rights defenders documented that police officers arrested at least 164 protestors in multiple locations (see table below) around 7.00 am and brought them to the Nabire district police station. All arrestees were released at 10.20 am, after indigenous leaders and local human rights defenders urged the police to let them go.

2020 09 24 Nabire protests 1Around 1.20 pm, the crowd from various locations met at the field in front of the police headquarters, waving banners with the Morning Star symbols and slogans for the rejection of a second special autonomy for West Papua (see image on the right). All protesters sat down and listened to the orations. A petition for the rejection of a second special autonomy was read aloud.

The petition declared that the presence of Indonesia in West Papua rather followed the objective of controlling and colonising West Papua instead of realising prosperity for the Papuan people. The document reaffirmed that the FRP strongly rejects a prolongation of special autonomy or any other measure for the Papuan future which the Government of Indonesia undertakes without prior consultation with the Papuan people. The FRP declared its support for a referendum regarding West Papua’s political status and demanded the government to withdraw all troops from West Papua immediately.

The protest remained peaceful and was ended with a prayer.

Table with locations of arrests and the total number of arrested protesters in Nabire


Location of arrest

Total number of detained protesters





Karang Timaris