JAKARTA continues to brutally repress peaceful dissent in Papua, the restive region in Indonesia's far east, an international report has found.
This is despite personal assurances given by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to John Howard last year that 42 Papuan asylum-seekers in Australia had no case to make.
Activists are still being jailed under loosely worded treason laws for activities such as raising the Papuan flag - first formally flown by independence supporters in 1961 - and singing Papuan freedom songs, the report by New York-based Human Rights Watch claims.
The report calls for Indonesia to repeal the colonial-era laws that have made possible regular prosecutions against Papuan secessionists, and for close neighbours such as Australia to raise concerns over human rights abuses.
The 42-page document covers the cases of 18 Papuans known to be in jail for peacefully protesting against Indonesian oppression, and suggests that "given the closed nature of Papua, there are likely other cases of which we are not aware".
A Papua police spokesman yesterday angrily denied the claims, saying "we only have criminals in our jails".
A Justice Ministry spokesman, Ketut Sumawan, insisted the situation in Papua had improved in recent years.
"If there is anyone behaving in an anarchic fashion, the police will of course secure the situation but Papua looks to be safe now. There is no one trying to raise the (Morning Star) flag," Mr Sumawan said.
Papua was absorbed into Indonesia by a widely discredited 1969 referendum, after former colonial ruler The Netherlands finally relinquished its hold on the resources-rich region.
Founding Indonesian president Sukarno had made incorporation of Papua a policy cornerstone, and the wealth eventually generated by the province's vast gold and copper reserves largely underwrote Indonesia's development during his successor Suharto's regime.
But accusations of brutality remain a thorn in Jakarta's side, particularly since the loss of East Timor in 1999 and the recent peace deal in Aceh.
The tensions are magnified by the existence of a low-level armed insurgency, sometimes identified as being run by the Free Papua Organisation (OPM), although in reality the resistance to central rule is spread far more broadly across the clannish Melanesian society than just one group.
The Human Rights Watch report, entitled Protest and Punishment: Political Prisoners in Papua, details the recent arrests and trials of several men it says the court system was unable to prove had any link with violent or secessionist activities.
"Often Papuans not involved in the armed insurgency are caught up in anti-separatist sweeps or arrested as trouble-makers for expressing their political views," the report claims.
It cites in detail the cases of Filep Karma, 45, and Yusak Pakage, 26, arrested after a demonstration and flag-raising in 2004 at Cendrawasih University in the Papuan capital, Jayapura. The demonstration was to commemorate the December 1, 1961, raising of the Morning Star in Jayapura but was not, the defence argued, intended to agitate for independence.
The defence also argued that Karma had in fact tried to settle tensions between police and demonstrators as tempers rose during the incident.
Karma and Pakage were sentenced in 2005 to 15 and 10 years' jail respectively, despite prosecutors asking for only five-year penalties under the treason law provisions.
During their trial, the report notes, the Jayapura Legal Aid office received a severed dog's head, attached to which was a note naming the men's lawyers and signed "the people of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia". (Rupert Murdoch's Australian, 21 februari).