By Gary Hatigeva
THERE is growing concern following the detention and questioning of a second advocator for West Papua yesterday morning.
This is the second related incident concerning Indonesia’s presence in the sixth Melanesian Arts and Cultural Festival, which is irking local activists of the cause for a free West Papua from Indonesian rule.
Over the weekend, a young male activist, Mr Ben Didiomea, was held and questioned in the police stall at the Festival venue, and had his Morning Star (West Papuan flag) confiscated.
Yesterday, police held another young male Free West Papua advocator for questioning over what is believed to be connected to his postings on Facebook. This, according to members of public is a startling turn of events.
Over the weekend, Didiomea of the Solomon Islands Solidarity for West Papua group, had his flag confiscated after he held it up in front of Indonesia’s festival stall to protest its inclusion at the event.
Local advocators and supporters gathered in front of the ‘Melanesia Province of West Papua’ stall to display the West Papua Morning Star flag, and were also protesting why the invite was for the Melanesian province, yet no Melanesians were present to showcase or talk to the event’s goers.
A video on Facebook showed Didiomea holding up the Morning Star flag as Indonesian officials tried to move him away from the stall.
According to eyewitnesses, Didiomea was approached by police who confiscated the flag, saying they took out the flag to stop any provocation aimed at the Indonesian delegation.
In an official statement on Sunday this week, police clarified that the flag was removed to prevent provocation of the Indonesians, and also reminded that the festival was not a political event.
They explained that the Solomon Islands Government has invited the Government of Indonesia to participate in the 6th Melanesian Art and Cultural Festival being held at various venues in Honiara from July 1-10, 2018.
“With the mandate to protect law and order and provide security in Solomon Islands, the RSIPF put in place an operational order to provide security during the MSG Leaders’ Meeting, the MACFest and the 40th anniversary of independence,” the statement adds.
Police say they put in place measures to ensure the safety of both members of the local community and visitors from participating countries, and based on daily reports, including some drunken youth getting into the Indonesian stall and threatening to burn it down and some unknown people climbing the flag poles at the Panatina venue and removed the Indonesian Flag, which they say is still missing.
Referring to the weekend incident, police explained that at about 4pm, some local supporters of the West Papua Freedom Movement arrived at the Indonesian Stall at the Melanesian Village and pulled up the Movement’s flag in front of the stall.
“The RSIPF officers at the Indonesian Stall took the flag away from the West Papua supporters and led them to the Police Post at the venue to tell them that the MACFest is not a political event but an arts festival where people should go and enjoy in a safe environment,” police said.
Police deny that at no time did the RSIPF arrest the local leader of the West Papua supporters.
“RSIPF want to strongly advice members of our communities in and around Honiara to refrain from any activity that may cause harm to the peace of our nation. Anyone who wants to disturb the peace will face the full force of the law,” the statement further adds.
But, public took to social media to vent out their anger and frustrations over the incident, and questioned the police, the national government and the MACFest NOC over the issue, which they said was ‘confusion in their making’.
Many [name withheld] posted questions and expressed disappointment in both the government and police over the incident.
“It’s kind of funny though and seems ironic that even though we don’t want to politicise the situation, the situation itself is already politicised in that Indonesia per se is invited. If the MACFest is to be purely Melanesia, it should not be mixed up with all these politics. Perhaps, SIG should not have extended its invitation at the first place to prevent such complications,” one commentator posted
Another said the issue starts with the decision to invite Indonesia, suggesting if the government or the RSIPF thinks that the MACFest should not be politicised, then Indonesia’s inclusion has already politicised the event.
He said the influence Indonesia is taking on Solomon Islands makes it look to obvious the emulation of their rules, which continue to destroy and suppress the indigenous people of West Papua in their own land.
“I think the SIG owes the public, and fellow participating Melanesian countries an explanation/clarification as to why or how come we have Indonesia’s presence in the MACFest. For we all know the issue of WestPapua is a sensitive one and we have active advocates in the country. The initiative by the SIG will surely raise questions; why Indonesia and not West Papua,” another pointed out.
Also joining the raised concerns, the Solomon Islands in Solidarity for West Papua group stressed that while police are carrying out mandated duties, the group maintains that they have the right to raise the West Papua flag and questions how displaying a flag violates the laws of the country.
They said the situation raises so many questions than answers, as to why West Papua was invited but represented by Indonesians, and pointed out that all they see in the stall are Indonesians, who even took the liberty to paint the stall with Indonesian flag colours.
“How is this doing justice to our brothers and sisters who are suffering ongoing murder and torture in West Papua?
“The Solomon Islands government is answerable to this. What is our government’s stand on this issue?
“Just to reiterate, under the DCCG, Sogavare stood with the fight for freedom and self – determination for West Papua, and his government acknowledged this as an issue and one that needed the support of all governments and civil society groups to advance advocacy and freedom campaigns,” the group added.
The solidarity group members however maintained that they will continue advocating for recognition of West Papua as Melanesians and their struggle to freedom during these last few days of the festival.