The Blog

A West Papuan Flag Gets You Arrested in London, as Well as in West Papua

On Wednesday, after being feted by senior Anglicans.

The State Visit to the UK of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been beset by protests against his government's human rights abuses in occupied West Papua.

Such arrests are routine in the Indonesian-annexed state, but in London?

As I tried to raise the flag, unidentified men in plainclothes chased and wrestled me to the ground. I was then arrested by Metropolitan Police officers, who claimed the men who had manhandled me were Indonesian security. The police said they were arresting me at the request of the President's entourage. What? Since when can a foreign human rights-abusing President dictate who gets arrested in London?

Taking a leaf out of the heavy-handed tactics used by the Indonesian security forces in West Papua, the Met Police officers applied unnecessary, excessive force, given that I was no threat and was not resisting arrest.

I was stunned to be arrested for what was a peaceful, lawful protest. But perhaps I should not have been so naive. Similar bully-boy tactics are nowadays used all too often by the police to suppress legitimate, non-violent protests.

I was one of nearly 100 protesters who had gathered to protest at human rights abuses by the Indonesian regime, including activists from Free West Papua, Amnesty International, Greenpeace and Survival International.

Instead of arresting me, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is the person who should have been arrested on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, under British and international law.

The Indonesian President stands accused of complicity with crimes against humanity in the past in East Timor and currently in West Papua, involving the deaths of thousands of people.

It is appalling that the Royal Family, the Prime Minister and the Church of England are hosting a man who is implicated in mass murder. Well in excess of 100,000 West Papuan civilians have been killed by the Indonesian army.

A long, slow genocide is being perpetrated in West Papua.

As President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is responsible for the abuses committed by the police and military in West Papua. The buck stops with him.

Under Indonesia's tyrannical rule, West Papuans are denied basic human rights, including freedom of expression and their own cultural identity. Two Papuan men, Yusak Pakage and Filep Karma, have been jailed for 10 and 15 years respectively for merely raising the West Papuan flag.

By comparison to them, I was lucky. All that happened to me was arrest, a bit of rough manhandling and a spell in police custody.

Indonesia has much to hide and knows it. That's why foreign media and human rights groups are denied access to West Papua.

Indonesia annexed West Papua in the 1960s, when the Netherlands relinquished its south east Asian colonies. The West Papuan people never agreed to be a part of Indonesia. Jakarta maintains its rule by military force. It refuses to allow the people of West Papua the right to self-determination, in flagrant defiance of the United Nations Charter.

So why is the British government colluding with the President of an oppressive regime? Oil? Minerals? Timber? Arms sales? All four.

While the British state protected the leader of a human rights-abusing regime, I was arrested for a non-violent, legal protest, which involved nothing more sinister than holding a flag. I was deemed to have breached the peace. I was also threatened with further breach of the peace charges for "shouting loudly" and for what one police officer described as "pointing your finger at me in a way that I find intimidating."

A police officer intimidated by a pointed finger? Can you believe it? Are police officers nowadays really such ultra-sensitive souls? Heaven help us if they have to deal with hardened criminals with weapons. No wonder the streets are awash with crime. Timid police officers!

On arrest, I was put in rigid handcuffs. They were twisted by the police, which pinched the nerves in my wrist, causing agonising pain. It seemed like this was deliberate. I am still in pain a day later - not just my wrists but also my arm, shoulder, back, leg and foot.

Nevertheless, what was done to me is nothing by comparison to the daily brutalities inflicted on the heroic people of West Papua by the Indonesian army of occupation.

I am saddened that some police officers apparently have no respect for freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest - rights and freedoms that have been hard won by the protests and sacrifices of many British people down the centuries.

I was detained unlawfully and deprived of my liberty for two hours. After being taken to Charring Cross police station, I was eventually released without charge. Clearly, the police knew they had over-stepped the mark and that the charges against me were baseless.

The Indonesian President's State Visit to the UK continues until 2 November. So will the protests. Free West Papua!

Before You Go