Security minister calls for calm in violence-hit Papua

Papuan students breaking away from a line of police and military personnel during a rally, demanding the right to self-determination and an end to racism and colonialism in West Papua, in front of the army's headquarters in Jakarta yesterday. Riots a
Papuan students breaking away from a line of police and military personnel during a rally, demanding the right to self-determination and an end to racism and colonialism in West Papua, in front of the army's headquarters in Jakarta yesterday. Riots and demonstrations have brought several cities in Indonesia's easternmost region to a standstill this week. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Indonesian Security Minister Wiranto urged residents to stay calm and not be provoked by fake news when he visited the restive province of West Papua yesterday, following violent protests in the region described as the worst in years.

The violence was sparked by an incident in Surabaya in East Java, over the weekend, in which more than 40 Papuan students were arrested after being accused of disrespecting the Indonesian flag during an Independence Day celebration.

Claims of heavy-handed treatment and racist slurs by the police followed.

Mr Wiranto, who was accompanied by Indonesian military commander Hadi Tjahjanto and national police chief Tito Karnavian, sought to put a lid on the unrest in the sprawling archipelago's easternmost region, where a low-level insurgency against Indonesian rule has been simmering for decades.

Mr Wiranto passed on President Joko Widodo's appeal for Papuans to "become peaceful again, forgive one another, and not to be emotional", national police spokesman Asep Adi Saputra told reporters in Jakarta yesterday.

Riots have been reported in several cities across the region, which is divided into Papua and West Papua provinces, including in the West Papua provincial capital of Manokwari where an angry mob torched the Parliament building on Monday.

Elsewhere, violence was reported in the cities of Timika and Sorong. In Fakfak regency, demonstrators hoisted the outlawed Morning Star independence flag of the Papuan separatist movement.

The government has dispatched some 1,200 additional security personnel to the region to maintain public order and safety.

 

Internet access in the region was cut on Wednesday and officials said owners of social media accounts sharing provocative content would be investigated.

The police yesterday said that life had returned to normal and the situation was under control. No deaths have been reported in connection with the violence.

Smaller demonstrations and rallies in support of the Papuans were reported yesterday in Jakarta as well as in Bogor in West Java.

In Jakarta, more than a hundred Papuan students marched from the army headquarters to the gates of the presidential palace, shouting pro-independence slogans and demanding the right to self-determination and an end to racism and colonialism in West Papua.

The lack of development in what remains one of the poorest provinces in the country, human rights abuses by security forces and discrimination against the ethnic Melanesian population have often been cited as the cause for the resentment against Indonesian rule in the territory. It has been under Indonesian control since 1969.

Mr Andreas Harsono, a researcher at Human Rights Watch in Jakarta, urged the police to punish the officers who were seen in a viral video taunting the detained Papuan students, using derogatory terms such as "monkey".

Mr Harsono, who is author of Race, Islam And Power: Ethnic And Religious Violence In Post-Suharto Indonesia, also called on the country's leaders to "openly denounce the use of the word 'monkey' to describe dark-skinned, curly-haired Papuans".

He told The Straits Times: "They should tell all government employees that it's illegal to use racist remarks."

Mr Joko, in a statement broadcast from the presidential palace in Bogor yesterday, said he had ordered the national police chief to take firm legal action against anyone engaged in ethnic or racial discrimination. He has also invited community and religious leaders from Papua and West Papua to the palace for a dialogue next week.

The President has paid special attention to the region since he assumed office in 2014, visiting it more often than any of his predecessors. He plans to open a bridge next month in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province.

Mr Joko has banked on the building of infrastructure to boost development and has pushed for a Trans-Papua Highway to boost connectivity in the region.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2019, with the headline 'Security minister calls for calm in violence-hit Papua'. Print Edition | Subscribe