Indigenous Papuans angered by decades of racism rallied in 30 cities across Indonesia, including Jakarta, this week, after video circulated of Indonesian militias racially abusing Papuan students. Rioting Papuans burned down a local parliament building in Manokwari and a prison in Sorong, West Papua province, on Monday, as video of the events spread. On Thursday the government shut down the internet in Papua.
The videos show Indonesian police detaining 43 Papuan students in Surabaya, Java Island, last Saturday, for allegedly failing to raise the Indonesian flag to celebrate Independence Day. Dozens of militia members and military officers surrounded the student dormitory, calling them “monkeys,” and police stormed the dorm, using teargas to arrest the students. Militia used similar racial slurs and harassment in Malang and Semarang in Java.
Papuan students have repeatedly been targets of intimidation by Islamist and nationalist groups as international advocacy for Papuan independence has escalated since the formation of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua in 2014.
Papuans have protested against discrimination and marginalization, including demographic change as a result of five decades of government-sponsored transmigration of Indonesian settlers to the provinces of Papua and West Papua.
While police released the students that night, the riots prompted Indonesian security forces to deploy hundreds of new troops into West Papua and Papua. In Fakfak, two Papuan men were critically wounded when Indonesian militias allegedly attacked their rally. On Thursday, Indonesia’s Ministry of Telecommunication “temporarily” shut down the internet “to accelerate government efforts to restore order.”
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.
Indonesian authorities should immediately restore access to the internet, which is vital for emergency communications and basic information in times of crisis. Papua is already isolated, with the government preventing foreign journalists from reporting freely. Officials should stop limiting information and allow people to peacefully express their views.