By Elizabeth Kendal
Every 15 August, Papuans (mostly Christian Melanesians) hold demonstrations to protest the unjust New York Agreement, signed on 15 August 1962, which paved the way for West Papua and Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya) to come under Indonesian rule.
Every 17 August, Indonesians (in particular, the mostly Javanese Muslims) celebrate Indonesia's 17 August 1945 Proclamation of Independence.
Unsurprisingly, every year there are clashes and arrests. Indeed, this year more than 100 Papuans were arrested, including “a 9-year old kid whose only crime was marching with his fellow West Papuans”.
What’s more, this year footage went viral which showed Indonesian soldiers using excessive force as police and radicals aligned with various nationalist and Islamist militia groups yelled racist abuse and threats at Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java.
Fed up and infuriated, Papuans rallied in 30 cities across Indonesia, including in Jakarta, in protest of years of unrelenting racial-religious hatred and persecution.
To appreciate the seriousness of incident in Surabaya, a report in the Jakarta Post is worth quoting at length.
Papuan students on Java face increased pressures from Islamist, nationalist groups
By Ivany Atina Arbi, Wahyoe Boediwardhana, and Benny Mawel
The Jakarta Post Jakarta, Surabaya, and Jayapura, Monday, August 19, 2019
"Papuan students on Java Island have repeatedly become the target of intimidation by Islamist and nationalist groups.
"In the latest incident on Friday afternoon [16 Aug], scores of security forces along with civil militias from hard-line group Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and youth organization Pemuda Pancasila (PP) reportedly went to a Papuan student dormitory on Jl. Kalasan in Surabaya, East Java, and launched physical and verbal attacks against the students, following the finding of an Indonesian flag discarded near the dorm.
"According to the Surabaya Legal Aid Institute, which cited the account of a student staying in the dormitory, Indonesian Military (TNI) soldiers allegedly banged on the door of the dorm while uttering curse words such as 'monkey', 'dogs' and 'pigs' aimed at the students inside the dormitory.
"Dozens of FPI and PP members reportedly came not long after.
"Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman, who is also a representative of the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB), said Sunday that the angry mob purportedly damaged the dorm’s gate and threw stones at the building while chanting 'Kick out Papuans!' and 'Slaughter Papuans!' for hours, restricting the students’ movement.
"Two good Samaritan Indonesian students, who at midnight delivered food to the students trapped inside the dorm, claimed to have been assaulted and later arrested by police who were guarding the area.
|Police storm dormitory (ABC)|
"'[All the teargas and violence] is totally unnecessary. They are only unarmed, hungry, thirsty and tired students who have been rounded up by hundreds of racist civil militias and security forces for more than 24 hours,' she said."
Australia’s ABC reported that the police stormed the ‘dormitory full of Papuan students, firing around 20 tear gas canisters into the building, causing injuries, arrested 43 (later released) around nine hours after without charge, over claims that the Indonesian flag was found in the gutter by the building.’ They claim to have been concerned that the crowd/mob was ‘close to attacking’, and thus only acted to stabilise the situation.
Protests erupt in West Papua and Papua
On Monday 19 August, thousands of Papuans protested in West Papua’s Manokwari (where local parliament was torched,) and Sorong (where 250 inmates escaped after the jail was torched), as well as in Papua’s capital Jayapura.
Clashes have been reported in Fakfak, a Papuan regency known to harbour Indonesian nationalist and Islamist militias.
Several protesters were injured and dozens detained as Indonesian authorities cracked down on the Papuan “separatists”.
Victor Yeimo, a spokesperson for the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), told Al Jazeera that a member of his organisation has confirmed reports of injuries sustained by several West Papuans, some of whom were taken to a local hospital.
John Djonga, a prominent Catholic priest in Papua province, told Al Jazeera that he had sent an emissary to Fakfak, who confirmed that some injured protesters were being treated in a hospital there.
The police, however, deny that dozens were wounded in the crackdown, asserting that reports of injuries are nothing but “hoax news”.
Troops deployed; Internet shut down
The Indonesian government has deployed an additional 1,200 troops to Papua Province, a region long-closed to outsiders.
According to a report by Pacific Media Watch, Indonesia’s police chief, Tito Karnavian, has focused blame for the destruction in Manokwari on the people who posted about the Surabaya incident on social media, describing their posts as “hoax news”. Further to that, in a statement, the Ministry of Communication and Information said it had acted to “throttle” access to the internet in several areas because of the potential for disinformation to create social disorder. “We can say that the purpose of throttling is to prevent the wide spread of hoax (fake news) that trigger action,” the ministry said.
On Thursday 22 August, Indonesia’s Ministry of Telecommunication “temporarily” shut down the internet across Papua Province allegedly “to accelerate government efforts to restore order”. Of course, this not only prevents the flow of news into Papua, it also makes it very difficult to get news out.
|CBC News 23 Aug 2019|
'Indonesia deploys thousands of troops to Papua region to quell protests'
(includes interview with exiled Papuan leader, Benny Wenda)
Protests continue; calls for referendum
On Monday 26 August, some 5000 Papuans took to the streets of Deiyai, a highlands town about 500 km south-west of Jayapura, carrying four banned Morning Star flags.
Papuans are calling for a new, fair and just referendum on Papuan Independence.
As Indonesian expert on Papua issues, Darmawan Triwibowo, told the Jakarta Post, “Papuans are often depicted [by the government and mass media] as anti-nationalists who want to separate themselves from the country. The media, however, fail to present the reason behind such aspiration. There’s a human rights issue behind the desire, which is a political problem that should also be addressed using a political approach instead of a security or economic approach.”
According to the Jakarta Post, “[Triwibowo’s] voice was echoed by Papua Peace Network coordinator Adriana Elisabeth, who said various human rights violations that occurred in Papua had not been resolved to this day, despite President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo’s 2014 campaign promise to do so.”
As Human Rights Watch declared, “The Indonesian government has a responsibility to ensure security in West Papua and Papua and to respect the human rights of everyone, including protesters. President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, who plans to visit Papua, should condemn racist remarks and actions, promote tolerance, and direct the police to impartially investigate abusive militias and officers.”
President Widodo's shame
To date, all President Widodo has done is call on Papuans to stay calm and forgive their fellow citizens.
“I know that there are hurt feelings,” Widodo told a media conference, “but as fellow citizens the best thing is to forgive each other. 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.”
But, as Evi Mariani observed in the Jakarta Post (19 Aug), “Papuans have long endured racial discrimination from the majority Javanese.”
She notes that in July last year, Amnesty International Indonesia released a report which described Papua as “one of Indonesia’s black holes for human rights . . . a region where security forces have for years been allowed to kill women, men and children, with no prospects of being held to account."
Mariani continues, “Under the pretext of nationalism, [many Indonesians] may think Papuans have no right to be outraged. After all, some would say: ‘We give them roads, development and a lot of special autonomy funds. . .’
“However, we fail to give the Papuans respect they deserve and recognition that they are equal to us. As citizens of Indonesia, they have equal opportunity to protest when they think they are being treated unfairly. Of course, such failure only amounts to racism.
“Non-Papuans, the majority, would say Papuans, the minority, have no right to call for justice or determine their future after the relentless acts of violence, injustice and racism they have endured for decades. Unless they find peace, justice and prosperity, they will consider living in the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia merely a rhetorical statement.
“Papuans deserve peace and prosperity on their rich land and without eradicating our racism against them, there would never be peace in Papua.”
“Racism,” she concludes, will only fuel the Papuan “struggle for independence from ‘Indonesian occupation'.”
Indeed; Papuans have had enough of genocidal racial-religious hatred and persecution.
On 30 August, East Timor will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1999 UN-managed referendum through which the mostly Catholic East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly to separate from Indonesia. As Jose Ramos Horta explains, ‘Between 150,000 and 200,000 people out of a population of 700,000 died during the 24-year Indonesian reign.’
Though marked by violence which saw more than 1500 East Timorese murdered at the hands of Indonesian nationalist and Islamist militias – violence ultimately subdued by troops from an International Force (INTERFET) organised and led by Australia – the 1999 referendum paved the way to independence. Today Jose Ramos Horta is incredibly proud of East Timor, and incredibly grateful for the referendum which has enabled the East Timorese to create ‘a new country, free of revenge and violence, a vibrant democracy with the freest media in the region’.
Do the Papuans deserve any less?
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).