The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) has called once again for the United Nations to visit Papua and West Papua following the racial abuse that sparked widespread protests in the country’s easternmost regions.
Previously, Pacific countries of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) had “strongly encouraged” Indonesia to finalize the timing of a visit by the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to investigate alleged human rights abuses and allow the commissioner to create an “evidence-based, informed report” on the situation in Papua.
ULMWP chairman Benny Wenda said that the “extreme racism” experienced by Papuan students studying in regions outside Papua showed the urgency of a UN visit.
“In February this year, the UN condemned the ‘deeply entrenched discrimination and racism’ Papuans suffer at the hands of Indonesia. The UN must now follow this up,” Benny said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet must be allowed to visit West Papua. I reiterate the call of the Pacific Islands for Indonesia to stop blocking the high commissioner from seeing the reality in our country.”
Since February last year, Indonesia had “in principle” agreed to grant access to Papua to the high commissioner’s office, but the two sides still needed further talks on the arrangements.
In June last year, Indonesia reprimanded staff members of the UN agency’s regional office in Bangkok for “unilaterally setting the dates and areas to visit in Papua and West Papua, while demanding immediate access.”
Benny ended the statement by saying that the people of West Papua should be “given the choice to determine their own destiny.” (kmt)
Large public demonstrations are underway in cities in West Papua after the reported harassment of Papuans in Indonesia over recent days.
Papua’s provincial governor has also spoken out after dozens of Papuan university students were set upon by a mob and later arrested in Surabaya, as well as incidents in other Javanese cities of Semarang and Malang.
Racist slurs and harassment directed at Papuans in the Surabaya incident in particular have prompted people to take to the streets of Jayapura, Manokwari, Sorong and other Papua regional cities today in protest.
The Papuan students in Surabaya were subjected to angry, racist chanting by a large crowd outside their dormitory on Saturday. The crowd gathered after allegations that a student had thrown an Indonesian flag into a sewer before going inside the dorm.
Under siege, the students remained holed up inside until fully armed police raided the premises, firing teargas into the dorm and taking 43 people into custody.
Later that night, the students were released without charge, although it emerged that five of them had been injured in the process of being arrested.
While describing the police actions as proportionate and fair, Papua’s Governor Lukas Enembe raised concern over the conduct of the public mob who harassed the students.
Mr Enembe said intolerance, racism and discrimination by self-serving vigilantes would only disrupt the social harmony of Indonesia as a country.
The Surabaya City police chief, Senior Commissioner Sandi Nugroho, said the siege of the Kamasan III Papua Student Dormitory was carried out by the community, particularly youth groups.
According to the police chief, these groups were angry about the treatment of their national flag. Nationalist sentiment was running high at the weekend, as Saturday was the 74th anniversary of Indonesia’s independence day.
Local media reported that members of the Pancasila Youth nationalist organisation were part of the mob which chanted “kick out Papua” outside the dormitory, while calling Papuans “monkeys”.
Last Thursday in Malang, several West Papuans were injured, at least one seriously, while participating in a demonstratrion about Papuan self-determination aspirations. The demo prompted the city’s deputy mayor to warn that Papuan students might be removed from the city because they ’caused unrest’.
On Saturday, a Papuan student dormitory in Semarang was surrounded by civil groups demanding the students fly the Indonesian flag, in aggressive scenes echoing Saturday’s events in Surabaya.
Mr Enembe said that in his diverse region, indigenous West Papuans welcomed and treated non-Papuan communities with respect and equality.
Therefore, he said, their hope was that Papuans living in other provinces in Indonesia would be treated equally.
“This is our shared commitment as the children of the nation to create an Indonesia that is peaceful, politically sovereign, economically independent and ethically cultural,” Mr Enembe said.
The governor also urged all Papuans not to respond to the Surabaya, Semarang and Malang incidents with any actions that breached laws and regulations, nor the norms of cultural customs.
However, the racist slurs against Papuans sparked significant outrage in Papua where people rapidly organised today’s large demonstrations in major centres.
The response of Indonesian police, who made mass arrests during the previous batch of protests in Papua last week, will be watched closely.
Protests are spreading in Indonesia-ruled West Papua in response to harassment of Papuans during explosive incidents in Javanese cities last week.
Indonesia’s president has urged calm after some of the protests turned violent, but he’s been criticised for not directly addressing a festering racism problem.
The unrest was triggered when dozens of Papuan university students in Surabaya were assaulted by a mob on Saturday and later arrested.
ne of the students had allegedly trashed an Indonesian flag on the country’s independence day anniversary.
The angry scene was echoed in an incident in the city of Semarang where a Papuan student dormitory was surrounded by civilian groups demanding the students fly the Indonesian flag.
Nationalist sentiment was running high at the weekend, as it always does on independence day.
An Indonesian researcher with Human Rights Watch, Andreas Harsono, said anti-Papuan sentiment was also on the rise in the country.
“Military-related militias are starting to increase their campaign against Papua by showing that the Papuans (are) refusing to raise the Indonesian flag, hoping that it will exasperate the situation on the island of Java, Indonesia’s most important island,” Harsono said.
The students were repeatedly called “monkeys” and other racist slurs, sparking thousands to march in the streets back in Papua.
In Manokwari, videos posted to social media showed the parliament building on fire and roads blocked by burning tires.
The unrest prompted Indonesia’s President, Joko Widodo, to appeal for calm.
“I know that there are hurt feelings but as fellow citizens the best thing is to forgive each other,” Widodo told a media conference.
Widodo urges forgiveness
“It is okay to be emotional but forgiving is better. Being patient is also better. And be confident that the government will continue to safeguard your dignity and prosperity.”
Indonesia’s police chief, Tito Karnavian, has focussed blame for the destruction in Manokwari on the people who posted about the Surabaya incident on social media. He described it as hoax news.
But US-based Papuan independence leader Octo Mote said this response, along with that of the president’s, was disappointing.
“Now the Indonesian President, he ignored what’s going on. Then he said, ‘ok guys just apologise to each other’. So West Papuans should apologise for what? He doesn’t condemn the racism. He doesn’t say racism is not right.”
According to Mote, harassment of Papuans is a long running problem in Indonesia.
“From the beginning, this is an Asian [people] who invade Melanesian land, seeing us as sub-human beings with black and curly hair.”
He said the allegation about Papuans disrespecting the Indonesian flag in Surabaya was simply used as a trigger by the mob, who laid siege to the students’ dorm.
“Because of that hatred, they try to find a way. That’s what happens not only there but that same incident happens in so many cities outside of Papua. As a journalist who worked there so many years, we experienced this in our daily lives under Indonesian colonialism, the discrimination and racism we experience in everyday life,”
Monday’s peaceful protest in Jayapura was the biggest in Papua in years. There have been surprisingly few arrests, even where the protests turned violent such as in Manokwari.
On Tuesday a local resident, Ucu Sawaki, said the city’s streets had quickly returned to normal calm.
“Police is still everywhere and the security is also good this morning but still people are still afraid to go out from the house. So just couples, motorcycles and cars but it’s not like in the past.”
Indonesia’s government said it had restricted internet access to Papua and West Papua provinces as the protests took place.
In a statement, the Ministry of Communication and Information said it had acted to throttle access in several areas because of the potential for disinformation to create social disorder.
‘Throttling social media’
“We can say that the purpose of throttling is to prevent the wide spread of hoax (fake news) that trigger action,” the ministry said.
But it is unlikely that such measures will stop Papuans protesting this week. Indeed, the monkey slurs directed at their students have provided a new impetus.
Yesterday, large mobilisations took place in other Papuan cities, including Merauke, Biak and Nabire. However in Sorong, as Papuans took to the streets, 250 prisoners escaped from the local jail amid the chaos. A manhunt by local police is underway.
Also, in signs of an impending crackdown, Indonesia has deployed more military forces to Papua to quell the unrest.
This article is published under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand