ETAN Condemns Violence and Racism Against West Papuans #freepapuanpoliticalprisoners
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ETAN Condemns Violence and Racism Against West Papuans

Calls for freeing Papuan Political Prisoners


May 1, 2020 - The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) condemns the ongoing violence and racism against West Papuans living in various parts of Indonesia and in West Papua (the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua, and the government’s reactions to these expressions of discontent.
Take Action: Free West Papua PrisonersWe condemn the recent conviction of the Jakarta Six for their peaceful expression of  their opposition to Indonesia’s heavy-handed rule in West Papua. 

We call for the immediate release of these prisoners and other Papuans arrested for freedom of expression and for the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the terrible violence perpetrated on them.

As Indonesia struggles to contain the spread of COVID-19, the government continues to hold anti-racism and pro-independence activists in overcrowded prisons across West Papua, in Jakarta and in Balikpapan. In many cases, trials have continued against these political prisoners endangering the health of the prisoners, lawyers, judges and court staff.

The six were charged with treason for demanding self-determination for West Papua and flying the “morning star” flag at a demonstration at the end of August 2019. Paulus Suryanta Ginting, Ambrosius Mulait, Ariana Elopere, Dano Tabuni, and Charles Kossay were sentenced to nine months in prison; Isay Wenda was sentenced to eight months. (These sentences include time-served. Suryanta - also known as Surya Anta - is the first non-Papuan Indonesian to be detained on treason charges for supporting West Papua’s freedom.)


Condemnations of Papuans and what is perceived as their “ingratitude” for Indonesia’s supposed “largesse” toward the population were common in the mass media. Articles about the demonstrations and violence in the mainstream media almost exclusively cited government, police and military sources who condemned the Papuans.

On August 16, 2019, the day before Indonesians celebrate independence, Papuan students in dormitories in East Java were targeted by students after rumors spread that the Papuans had disrespected the Indonesian flag. Students and later vigilantes such as the Islam Defenders Front, a notoriously violent Islamist group, attacked West Papuan students, calling them “pigs,” “monkeys” and “dogs.” Accounts of these attacks show Indonesian security forces directing attacks, and in later attacks participating in the violence against Papuans.

The demonstrations and violence spread to other parts of Indonesia. In West Papua, security forces used overbearingly violent means to subdue protests, killing dozens. Racist language directed at Papuans by a teacher in Wamena led to protests that authorities met with violence, with nearly 30 Papuans killed. The Indonesian government implemented a media blackout in West Papua. Although information of the horrific violence leaked out in real time, these reports were portrayed as “hoaxes” designed to “spread conflict.” Journalists in West Papua were detained and assaulted. In West Java, Indonesian journalist and filmmaker Dandhy Laksono was arrested for tweets describing the violence in West Papua and voicing support for self-determination. Papuan protesters linked these recent grievances to their decades of suffering under Indonesian authority, and in some cases they raised the Bintang Kejora (Morning Star) flag, a symbol of Papuan nationalism, and renewed their calls for a referendum.

#FreePapuanPoliticalPrisonersFollowing the violence, the governor of East Java apologized for the treatment of the Papuans. But this was an atypical reaction. Condemnations of Papuans and what is perceived as their “ingratitude” for Indonesia’s supposed “largesse” toward the population were common in the mass media. Articles about the demonstrations and violence in the mainstream media almost exclusively cited government, police and military sources who condemned the Papuans. There was very little sympathy expressed for their situation as poor and marginalized, nor were Papuan voices allowed to express their version of events. As Papuan writer Tamara Soukotta asked, “if West Papua is — as the Indonesian state officially claims — part of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, why then are the West Papuans, as citizens of the Republic of Indonesia, denied their constitutional rights?”

This is an excellent question, and one for which Indonesia should be taken to task.


Recent events threatening tolerance and pluralism and of course the situation in West Papua and with Papuans elsewhere in Indonesia have called into question Indonesia's commitment to a fully realized democracy.

Subsequent flag raising ceremonies – and expression of the constitutional rights to which Soukatta refers – in December of 2019 led to the arrest of dozens of activists, some of whom are still facing charges, detained or on trial. And in January, two of the Jakarta Six, who were wearing traditional Papuan garb including koteka, or penis gourds, to court, were forced to put on pants. They described their treatment as racist, and it raises the question of why Indonesian feels free to use images of Papuans in kotekas in official portrayals of “exotic” Papuans, why are Papuans not free to wear them while defending themselves in court?

Indonesia proudly describes itself as a democracy. Following 32 years of brutal military dictatorship under General Suharto, Indonesia’s democratization began in 1998. Although the country has made some strides, including relatively open elections and a more open society, recent events threatening tolerance and pluralism and of course the situation in West Papua and with Papuans elsewhere in Indonesia have called into question Indonesia’s commitment to a fully realized democracy.

ETAN calls for the immediate release and the end to the criminalization of Papuans and journalists held in response to the recent demonstrations and flag raisings, people who were exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of information, freedom of speech, and freedom to congregate. 

About ETAN's West Papua e-mail listservFurthermore, ETAN calls for an investigation into the perpetrators of these acts of violence, including civilians, militia members, and members of Indonesia’s security forces. Along with video footage that clearly shows these despicable acts, there are thorough, detailed reports of these atrocities that can be introduced as evidence, including those compiled by international, Indonesian and Papuan organizations.

Democracy in Indonesia will remain democracy in name only until the rights of its people can be respected, including the rights of West Papuans to express themselves and to have a say in determining their present and their future.

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