Australians deported for Papua demonstration

Smoke billows from a building as it was set ablaze after hundreds of demonstrators marched near Papua's biggest city Jayapura on 29 August 2019, where they set fire to a regional assembly building and hurled rocks at shops and hotels. (AFP Photo)

Four Australians were deported from Indonesia’s Papua region on Monday, the immigration department said, after they allegedly took part in demonstrations demanding independence for the restive province.

Impoverished Papua, where a low-level insurgency against Indonesian control has simmered for decades, has seen two weeks of mass protests and deadly riots sparked by anger over racism and fresh calls for self-rule.

The four foreigners entered the island region on a yacht through the port of Sorong on August 10, Indonesian immigration official Erlangga Dwi Saputra told media.

They were “suspected of taking part in demonstrations demanding Papua’s independence in front of the Sorong mayor’s office,” the local immigration department said in a statement.

It came as police in Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost territory which shares a border with independent Papua New Guinea, banned demonstrations that could lead to “anarchist acts”.

On Sunday, police said dozens had been arrested in connection with rioting in the region’s capital, while Indonesia said it would deploy around 2,500 more police and troops to the province.

The Australians – identified as Tom Baxter, 37, Danielle Hellyer, 31, Ruth Irene Cobbold, 25, and Cheryl Melinda Davidson, 36 – were flown out of Papua to the island of Bali on Monday, Saputra said.

Three were due to fly to Australia on Monday evening, while Davidson will be sent there on Wednesday.

According to Saputra, three of the four had participated in a demonstration in Sorong and raised the forbidden ‘Morning Star’ Papuan flag on August 27. Police found the fourth on the group’s yacht, he added.

The unrest across Papua appears to have been triggered by the mid-August arrest of dozens of Papuan students in Java, who were also racially abused.

Jakarta took control of the former Dutch colony in the 1960s after an independence referendum widely viewed as a sham.

Indonesian authorities are deeply sensitive about Papua. In May, a Polish man was sentenced to five years in prison for plotting with rebels to overthrow the government in the province. – AFP