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Human Rights Watch is calling on the Indonesian government to release nine activists in West Papua who have been arrested for displaying the Papuan Morning Star flag and could face charges of rebellion.

The nine were arrested during a protest on 13 March against a 2007 law that bans the display of separatist symbols, including flags. According to news reports, a national police spokesman said the nine had unfurled the outlawed separatist "Free Papua" flag during the rally.

"Raising a flag at a demonstration is a non-violent act, but in Indonesia it can land you in prison," says Human Rights Watch. "If Indonesia wants recognition as a rights-respecting nation, it should stop imprisoning people for acts of peaceful expression."

Indonesia has long been sensitive about separatist movements. A government regulation prohibits the display of the Morning Star flag in Papua, the South Maluku Republic (RMS) Benang Raja flag in Ambon and the Crescent Moon flag in Aceh.

Human Rights Watch reports that two pro-independence demonstrators in the eastern province of Maluku were jailed for 15 to 17 years on 12 March for possessing the RMS flag.

According to news reports, several other people from Maluku are awaiting trial for unfurling the RMS flag during a welcome ceremony for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Indonesia won sovereignty over Papua, a former Dutch colony on the western half of the island of New Guinea, in 1969 after a vote widely seen as flawed. Papuans have long accused Indonesia's military of violating human rights in the province and complain that the bulk of earnings from its natural resources flow to Jakarta.

Visit these links:
- Human Rights Watch:
- Human Rights Watch, "Protest and Punishment: Political Prisoners in Papua" (February 2007 report):
- Past cases of activists being imprisoned:
- AFP via
(25 March 2008)

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