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A number of residents gathered during a peaceful solidarity action for Papua and West Papua in the Zero Point Region of Yogyakarta Indonesia, Monday, September 2, 2019. © 2019 Devi Rahman/INA Photo Agency/Sipa USA via AP Images
(Sydney) – Indonesian authorities should impartially investigate the deaths of at least 10 Papuans during recent unrest in the easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua, Human Rights Watch said today. Restrictions on access to Papua for foreign journalists and rights monitors and a partial internet shutdown have hindered reporting on the situation.

The Indonesian government should immediately allow unfettered access to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to travel to Papua to investigate the situation.

After video circulated of Indonesian militias racially abusing indigenous Papuan students outside their dormitory in Surabaya on August 17, 2019, Papuans demonstrated in at least 30 cities across Indonesia, including Jakarta. Rioting Papuans burned down the local parliament building in Manokwari and prisons in Sorong, West Papua province, and in Jayapura, Papua province.

“Indonesian police have a duty to avoid the use of force in response to Papuans who take their grievances to the streets,” said Elaine Pearson. “Any wrongful use of force needs to be investigated and those responsible held to account.”

The media have reported that Indonesian authorities have detained at least seven people in connection with raising the pro-Papuan independence Morning Star flag in Jakarta and Manokwari. Another 60 have been reportedly detained for allegedly damaging property during unrest in Papua. Those held for the peaceful expression of their political views should be released and any charges dropped, Human Rights Watch said. The rest of those detained should be promptly brought before a judge, charged with a recognizable offense, and have access to lawyers and family members.

Human Rights Watch urged prompt and impartial investigations into the following alleged incidents:

  • In Deiyai on August 28, video footage shows uniformed police shooting live ammunition into a crowd of Papuan protesters inside the Deiyai Regency office. The Secretariat of Peace and Justice, a Catholic human rights organization located in Paniai, Papua, reported that eight Papuans and one Indonesian soldier were killed and 39 Papuans were injured. The Deiyai regent, Ateng Edowai, said that “people in civilian clothes” were responsible for the shooting. No independent or foreign journalists have access to Deiyai to investigate the incident.
  • In Jayapura on September 1, video footage shows a mob of Indonesians, police, and soldiers armed with machetes surrounding a Papuan student dorm in the Abepura neighborhood. Indonesian militias began to attack the dormitory at about 2 a.m. Suara Papua, a local news website, reported that one Papuan student was stabbed to death and more than 20 were injured, of whom 13 were hospitalized.
  • A video taken in Fakfak, West Papua on August 20, shows a Papuan man who had been disemboweled and others were reportedly wounded.

On August 22, the Indonesian government shut down the internet in Papua and West Papua. On September 4, internet services were partially restored. Several places including Deiyai are still partially blocked, meaning it is not possible to share videos or photographs.

Local media reported that Indonesian militias in Jayapura attacked Papuans who had occupied the Papuan governor’s office and replaced the Indonesian flag with the Morning Star. The militia Paguyuban Nusantara (“Archipelago Community”) is a new alliance formed from several Indonesian ethnic groups, mostly from Java Island, who had settled in Papua and West Papua since the late 1970s under the government-sponsored transmigration program.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has condemned racist statements against Papuans and authorities have suspended four army officers for their racist remarks in Surabaya pending investigations. Authorities have charged one militia leader in Surabaya for spreading hate speech.

Since the demonstrations began, the government has granted limited access to several foreign journalists to visit specific Papuan cities, but they have been monitored and unable to travel beyond the cities where they were given entry permits. The Indonesian government has restricted access to foreign journalists since the 1960s because of suspicion of the motives of foreign nationals in a region racked by corruption, environmental degradation, public dissatisfaction with Jakarta, and a small pro-independence insurgency.

On August 31, police arrested six activists, including five Papuan students in Jakarta and Surya Anta Ginting, the coordinator of the Front Rakyat Indonesia on West Papua, a solidarity group among Indonesian activists. They were charged with treason for flying the Morning Star flag outside the State Palace.

On September 3, police arrested an activist, Sayang Mandabayan, at the Manokwari airport for traveling with 1,500 small Morning Star flags. She has been detained at the Manokwari police station.

On September 4, Surabaya police issued an arrest warrant for Veronica Koman, an Indonesian human rights lawyer with “spreading fake news and provoking unrest.” Koman has shared videos on her Twitter account of the recent unrest.

On September 4, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed concern about the violence in Papua and urged the Indonesian government “to engage in dialogue with the people of Papua and West Papua on their aspirations and concerns.” Despite President Jokowi’s invitation to the UN human rights chief to visit Papua in February 2018, government officials have continued to delay the visit.

Concerned governments should call on the Indonesian government to:

  • Promptly and impartially investigate unrest-related deaths and injuries and appropriately prosecute those responsible for wrongdoing.
  • Immediately restore full access to the internet, which is vital for emergency communications and basic information in times of crisis.
  • Lift restrictions on access for foreign journalists and rights monitors in line with previous statements by the Indonesian president.
  • Allow the UN human rights office immediate unfettered access to Papua. 
  • Drop charges and release all those detained for peaceful acts of free expression including Sayang Mandabayan. Drop the case against Veronica Koman.

Police should cease using unnecessary or excessive force against the protesters, Human Rights Watch said. While some protester action may warrant police use of force, the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that all security forces shall, as far as possible, apply nonviolent means before resorting to force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, the authorities must use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Law enforcement officials should not use firearms against people except in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.

“Governments concerned about the unrest and violence in Papua should press the Indonesian government to take prompt action to end the bloodshed, protect the rights of all, and allow full and open reporting of the situation,” Pearson said.



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