West Papua in Riots: The Ignored Cries of The Indigenous
The entire province of West Papua has been cut off from internet since 19 August 2019, after a series of mass protests by indigenous West Papuans took place, demanding their voices to be heard.
On August 15 2019, the Papuan Student Alliance (AMP) and the Indonesian People's Front for West Papua (FRI-WP) in East Java held a peaceful demonstration to reject the New York Agreement signed by Indonesia, the Netherlands and the United States on August 15 1962. Activists and students stood together, dressed in traditional Papuan clothing, holding signs that read “West Papuans are not monkeys.” – a slur often used against the indigenous Papuans.
Indigenous Papuans have long been the target of the Indonesian military and armed forces. The western half of Papua New Guinea has seen turmoil, military aggression and rampage in secrecy for the last 50 years. Once colonised by the Netherlands until the early ’60s, now proclaimed an Indonesian province newly named “Irian Jaya”, the whole world has been supporting Indonesia’s oppressive regime and in turn, they’ve helped them silence the ignored cries of the indigenous Papuans. Freedom of expression is non-existent for the Papuan people, especially for those who express a pro-independent West Papua stance – who automatically face jail, accused of insurgency.
The process in which West Papua was unilaterally snatched by Indonesia was a consequence of the lack of accountability of Western nations and their dismissal of the voices of indigenous Papuans. Before the Netherlands finally left West Papua, it surrendered its authority over West Papua to a United Nations agency, specifically formed to “handle” the dispute: The United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA). This, however, did nothing but co-sign Indonesia’s absurd claim to West Papua, a claim on quite literally the basis of “you’ve given most of the ex-Dutch colonies, so give us this one too”. An independent West Papua for Papuans was no longer on the agenda. Their cries for freedom of expression, justice and self-determination since the ’60s has been met with the aggression of the Indonesian military, resulting in hundreds of thousands of indigenous Papuans wrongfully imprisoned, having “disappeared” after imprisonment, raped and murdered.
Since the mistreatment of students and activists, thousands of indigenous Papuans have taken part in a series of protests, demanding an end to the racial discrimination they face exercising their right to freedom of expression under the Law Number 9 of 1998 concerning Freedom of Expression in Public. On August 16 2019, the dormitory of the Papuan students in East Java was sieged by Satpol PP, the students and those that support them have been victim to reactionary operations since. The entire dormitory was tear-gassed before detaining the group of students, who were accused by the authorities of destroying decorative Indonesian flags in the building. Tired of the dehumanisation they feel within their own lands, Papuans gathered together to tell East Java and whoever else that needed to listen, no more.
President Joko Widodo at a press conference said he had ordered authorities to “take stern, legal action against acts of racial and ethnic discrimination” and that cutting internet access, was for the “common good”. Widodo also reassured that the protests have now calmed and that peace in West Papua is restored. Activists claim that the protests are far from over and have continued, the indigenous Papuans feel no security in Widodo’s “stern” action, the very man who oversees the destruction of their people. On 23 August 2019, a source tells RestlessBeings that there were gunshots fired between the Indonesian police and the Papuan Freedom Fighters, resulting in 5 people being shot.
Villages of indigenous Papuans have witnessed whole-town massacres of their people. One example is the Biak Massacre (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbbndM9U4Fs), in 1998 a group of 200 Papuans, mostly made up of women and children were rounded up by the Indonesian military, taken to sea and thrown overboard. Villages of Papuans are often swept, and entire rural areas burnt to the ground under the guise of cracking down on insurgency.
Sexual assault and rape have been used as a weapon by the Indonesian military as a means of land grabbing (https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/wps/2019/08/21/sexualised-violence-and-land-grabbing-forgotten-conflict-and-ignored-victims-in-west-papua/). Evidence exists that the horrendous mass violation of women has been strategised in areas where land is extremely important to the Indonesian government, such as the Grasberg mine. Reports show in areas containing natural resources there is a significant increase of victims of sexual violence. From the testimonies of Papuan women themselves, it can be seen that the violent tactics used by the military against the indigenous Papuan people are becoming more sexual in nature and more horrific.
According to a RestlessBeings source, August 26 2019 saw 3000 people in Wamena, Jayawijaya, Papua, taking part in another peaceful demonstration in the courtyard of the local regent's office. One participant expressed “if Papuans are said to be animals, then "let the 'animals live alone”, in reference to the need for an independent West Papua. The demonstrators also raised the Morning Star flag, the symbol of a free West Papua. Regent John Banua, whose office the demonstration took place in said he accepted the demands of the masses and would forward them to the Governor of Papua. He further explained that the Governor planned to bring all the aspirations of the Papuan people together with the Governor of West Papua to President Joko Widodo.
The same source reveals that another protest was said to happen on August 26 2019 in Dekai, Yahukimo, but was postponed till the next day due to heavy rain. The evacuation of around 700 non-Papuan people began on August 24 2019, from Dekai to the Yahukimo Regional Police Office due to apparent rioting behaviours. Lt. Col. Inf Candra Dianto further explains that the evacuation was caused by the anticipation of riotous behaviours, such as the stone-pelting of homes and businesses, however, another peaceful demonstration that took place in Dekai a week previously for the very same reason saw no such behaviour.
Another protest was said to follow in Sorong, West Papua from August 26 to August 28 2019. This would follow a series of protests that also continued consecutively for three days the week before.
Indonesia remains in a state of impunity of their human rights violations, West Papua is cut off from journalists and NGO’s are prohibited from entering, all whilst Indonesia reassures us that their human rights record is “improving”. Jokowi insists that he has restored peace in West Papua, but have continued and will continue to.