Papuan students under siege seek self-determination

Papuan students under siege seek self-determination

West Papuan university students who have been attacked by non-Papuan civilian groups during unrest in the region say they simply seek self-determination.

Yason Ngelia
Yason Ngelia Photo: Whens Tebay

A surge of anti-racism protests and pro-independence demonstrations by West Papuans has rocked Indonesia for the past two weeks, triggering unrest.

They were sparked by racist harassment of Papuan students in at least two Javanese cities around Indonesian Independence Day anniversary last month. As Indonesia deployed thousands more security forces to Papuan region, dozens of Papuans have been arrested and at least 10 people have been killed during the unrest.

On Sunday, a student dormitory in Abepura, a district of Papua’s capital Jayapura, was attacked by a group described as a police-backed Indonesian nationalist civilian militia. The attack left one Papuan dead, and around a dozen students injured.

Students at the University Cenderawasih in Jayapura have urged Indonesia’s government to hold the perpetrators of racist attacks to account.

Young Papuans demonstrate in Jayapura following racist attacks on Papuan students, 20 August 2019
Young Papuans demonstrate in Jayapura following racist attacks on Papuan students, 20 August 2019 Photo: Whens Tebay

Interview with Yason Ngelia, Chairman of the Student Movement at the University Cenderawasih in Jayapura

RNZP: What is the current situation in Jayapura – are you in danger from any particular group?

Yason Ngelia: Abepura starts to become conducive. The security apparatus is guarding several points between Jayapura till Waena. Currently there are 31 students in custody. We just received information that one of the prominent leaders of our student movement, Delvius Hisage, might be amongst those arrested. We are currently trying to get more information about his whereabouts with LBH (Legal Aid Institute in Jakarta).

RNZP: Have Papuan students been harassed by non-Papuan civilian militia groups since the protests began?

Yason Ngelia: Yes, since the start we had around three to four casualties by militias.

RNZP: Who are the civilian militias?

Yason Ngelia: We are also not sure who they are and from what group they belong. Until now there is still no confirmation. Here you can only recognise them on their ethnicity. They are mostly settlers from Makassar living in economical accommodations around Entrop and Pasar Yotefa. The last three days the conflict was primarily centralised around Kamkey, Lingkaran, and Abepura. This morning one group of settlers again tried to attack the boarding houses of Wamena students in Kamkee, Abepura. But this time they couldn’t come in because the police is guarding the area around the LBH office and the street to the Yotefa market.

RNZP: Were students part of the groups who torched the buildings downtown and who went into the Governor’s office last week?

Yason Ngelia: They are students from the student solidarity group from UNCEN and the Technical University. But there are also normal citizens joining the demos. It’s difficult to tell who they are. Once the demo begins and we start moving, they just join in and the masses become bigger and bigger. We can’t control them.

RNZP: Indonesian president Joko Widodo promised to prosecute the persons behind the racial incident in Surabaya. That was the purported reason why Papuans started demonstrating. Papuans are still not satisfied, and the situation is deteriorating. What do Papuans want now?

Yason Ngelia: After the racial incident in Surabaya, Papuans want a final decision for their political right for self-determination. That counts for both Papuan students in Java and here in Papua. The substance is the same. We are all flying the morning star (flag) in almost all cities.

RNZP: What can we expect in the days ahead? Will things calm down or deteriorate?

Yason Ngelia: From all these occurrences we hope that President Jokowi will make the right political decision. He has to punish the perpetrators behind the racial incident in Surabaya. Furthermore, he must be open-minded to solve the Papuan problem. I can’t guess where this all will lead to and whether it will be the answer to our problems. The conflict in Papua is already decades old. This racial incident in Surabaya only triggered another uprising and it’s too soon predict the outcome yet.

(Interview conducted 2 September 2019), RNZ

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