West Papua: Indonesia Ramps Up Efforts to Violently Suppress Protests
Against the backdrop of ongoing demonstrations by West Papuans, whose demands for a independence referendum have become increasingly vocal, Indonesian authorities have stepped up its efforts to quell the protest movement by deploying 1,000 soldiers and cutting internet access across West Papua. The protests, which were sparked by the racial abuse of West Papuans students last week [14 August 2019], have since grown into a large-scale protest movement calling for the self-determination of West Papua and the end of the widespread human rights abuses against West Papuans. While West Papuan leaders are willing to engage in peaceful dialogue, the Indonesian government is ramping up its efforts to violently suppress the independence movement.
Below is an article published by The Guardian:
Indonesia has deployed more than 1,000 security personnel to West Papua and cut internet access, amid days of violent demonstrations in what activists say are the largest protests to occur in the region in years.
Protests continued on Thursday including in the capital Jakarta, where demonstrators flew the banned Morning Star flag in front of the state palace. Scores have been arrested for raising the symbolic flag of independence in the past, with one activist, Filep Karma, spending more than ten years in prison for the offense before he was released in 2015.
On Wednesday, violent unrest occurred in Fakfak, where a market was set ablaze and street battles erupted between police and protesters.
Waving the Morning Star flag, protesters chanted “we are not red and white”, in reference to the colours of the Indonesian flag.
Police fired tear gas after the crowds set fire to a market and destroyed ATMs and shops, local media reported. The crowd dispersed when riot police fired warning shots. Indonesian media reported police arrested 45 people, including some they accused of masterminding the protests and damaging buildings.
It followed days of large and violent protests across multiple cities in the region, which is divided into the provinces of Papua and West Papua.
The groundswell of anger that has fuelled the demonstrators was sparked by an incident in the Javanese city of Surabaya on the weekend, where nationalist groups goaded Papuan students with racist taunts, calling them “monkeys”, “pigs” and “dogs”.
The exiled West Papuan leader, Benny Wenda, said the subsequent arrests of the Papuan students in Surabaya had “lit the bonfire of nearly 60 years of racism, discrimination and torture of the people of West Papua by Indonesia”.
Angered by the racist slurs, Papuans began taking to the streets on Monday, first in Jayapura, from where violent protests have since spread to Manokwari, Fakfak, Timika and, on Thursday morning, Nabire, where demonstrators held signs with messages such as: “Papua merdeka, itu yang monyet inginkan,” or “Free Papua, this is what the monkeys want.”
As an additional 1,000 military and police troops were sent in, Indonesia’s communications ministry announced on Wednesday that internet access would be temporarily blocked in Papua and its “surrounding areas” to “accelerate the process of restoring security”.
It followed days of an internet slowdown, and will last “until the atmosphere of Papua returns to being conducive and normal”, the ministry said.
Also on Wednesday, 5,000 people rallied in and around the city of Timika, the closest town to the massive Freeport gold and copper mine, where demonstrators reportedly threw rocks at the local parliament building and tried to tear down its fence.
Hundreds also marched through the streets of Sorong city, where protesters destroyed parts of an airport and about 250 inmates escaped in a prison break on Monday, according to West Papua’s police chief, Herry Rudolf Nahak.
Indonesia’s chief security minister, Wiranto, who goes by one name, headed to Papua late on Wednesday in a bid to quell tensions, while President Joko Widodo was scheduled to visit next week.
Activists criticised the internet blackout, saying it would make it difficult to verify facts and ensure people’s safety, in an area where access by foreign journalists is already restricted. For days, photos and videos posted on social media have provided a rare glimpse at the extent of the unrest.
Jakarta has called for calm in its easternmost territory, where an insurgency against Indonesian rule has simmered for decades.
The protests have exposed simmering faultlines, with independence leader Wenda saying Papuans felt like second-class citizens in Indonesia.
“I myself was spat at by an Indonesian schoolgirl at high school, just because of the colour of my skin. Every Papuan has a similar story to tell. Events like these show why we have been struggling for a referendum on independence for so many decades,” Wenda said.
While the exiled leader welcomed efforts to ease tensions, conciliatory statements from Indonesia’s president would not be enough: “Papuans will not stop fighting until we achieve equality, self-determination and a referendum on independence.”
In a recent interview, Wenda told Guardian Australia the oppression of the West Papuan people, including through arbitrary arrests and military operations, and through its transmigrasi policy – migrating other non-Papuan Indonesians to the province to alter its ethnic make-up, and make Papuan people the minority – amounted to a “slow-motion genocide” of the Papuan people.
“Everything we fight is for our political independence, and our sovereignty, and also we want to run our own affairs. That is what we are fighting for, and for peace, no more killing, no more rape, we want to live peacefully with our neighbouring countries like Australia, like PNG and Indonesia.”
Papua is a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. It was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a UN-sponsored ballot that was seen as a sham by many.
Since then, a low-level insurgency has plagued the mineral-rich region. In recent years, some Papuan students, including some who study in other provinces, have become vocal in calling for self-determination for their region.
Police chief Herry Rudolf Nahak said authorities had the situation under control after more than a thousand additional police and soldiers were deployed from other cities, including from Jakarta, Bali and Makassar.
Photo courtesy of Febriana Firdaus @Twitter