JAKARTA, INDONESIA (AP) – Five Papuan pro-independence students and a rights activist went on trial on Thursday on charges of treason after waving morning star flags that are a separatist symbol during a peaceful protest in front of Indonesia’s presidential palace.
The rally in the capital, Jakarta, in August was part of weeks of protests triggered by videos that circulated widely on the internet showing police, backed by soldiers, calling Papuan students “monkeys” and “dogs”.
Protests in several cities in Papua and West Papua provinces turned violent, leaving over 30 people dead and hundreds of buildings and vehicles burned.
Paulus Suryanta Ginting, an Indonesian rights activist and the spokesman for the Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua, was arrested three days after participating in a rally by about 100 West Papuan students in Jakarta on August 28 to protest racism and call for independence for the restive region.
The five West Papuan students, Isay Wenda, Charles Kossay, Ambrosius Mulait, Dano Anes Tabuni and Arina Elopere, the only woman, were arrested two days after the protest.
Prosecutors charged them with treason, which carries a possible penalty of life imprisonment. The six defendants denied any wrongdoing.
Two wore traditional Papuan clothing and headgear during Thursday’s trial. They painted the word “monkey” on their bodies.