Papuans have been protesting across Indonesia against state repression and seeking self-determination.
As many of six of the eight activists and students arrested on August 30 and 31 by the Jakarta police remain in detention on charges of treason. These include the spokesperson of the Indonesia People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-WP), Surya Anta. Some of the arrested activists had taken part in protests in solidarity with the people of West Papua who are facing extreme repression by the Indonesian state. The eight people were arrested without warrants.
Indonesian security forces have also detained around 28 protesters in the West Papuan capital of Jayapura on charges of destroying public property.
Massive mobilizations have entered their second week in West Papua with the police letting loose repression on the protesters. According to sources from the region, on August 31, police firing in Jayapura killed three people and injured several more. On August 28, in a similar incident in the Deiyai district of West Papua, the police open fired on a group of protesters. Sources claimed that at least seven people were killed in the incident, with over a dozen civilians injured. Another person was reported to have died in the course of police violence earlier.
The government has also partially shut down communications in the region, making it very difficult to ascertain the extent of state repression. Internet services remain extremely sporadic and news outlets are able to report on the happenings only after a lag of several hours or even days. Both international media outlets and Indonesian organizations are finding it difficult to access information from the ground.
In the meanwhile, Papuans living in other parts of Indonesia are organizing a number of mobilizations as well. On August 31, students in Medan in North Sumatra took out a protest rally in the city, calling for independence. At least a dozen such rallies have been organized by Papuan students and migrants, particularly in areas of Java and Sumatra, where the Papuan community is experiencing extreme racist violence.
The latest round of protests began in the provinces of Papua and West Papua in response to the police repression and racist violence on the days leading up to the Indonesian independence day. On August 16, the police detained nearly 170 Papuan students and protesters. On August 15 and 16, Papuan students were victims of racist mob attacks in East Java. Although they were attacked in their hostels over unsubstantiated rumors, the town mayor called for their “deportation” in response to the incident.
The protests, which first began in Jayapura and other coastal cities, quickly spread to the hinterlands of West Papua. In Dogiyai, thousands participated in anti-racist demonstrations and demanded an end to the racist violence perpetrated on Papuans. The Indonesian government’s response has been to further militarize the region by sending 300 more troops and 1,200 police personnel. Even though the protests have remained largely peaceful, the region has been virtually shut down for around a week.
The protesters have been raising the demand for an independence referendum. West Papua, a former Dutch colony, was handed over to Indonesia as per the terms of the New York Agreement of August 15, 1969. Papuans have historically commemorated the anniversary of the agreement by calling for a referendum and the right to self-determination.