Police must stop discriminating against Papuan students, allow people to protest peacefully in West Papua

Responding to yesterday’s events in West Papua province, including the burning of the local parliament building and a penitentiary, as well as the destruction of homes, Amnesty International Indonesia’s Executive Director Usman Hamid said:

“Indonesian authorities must act promptly to deescalate tensions in West Papua Province and guarantee that people who wish to protest peacefully can continue to do so.

“It is the responsibility of the police to facilitate and protect the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly while ensuring everybody’s safety. Security officers must refrain from using unnecessary or excessive force, prioritize dialogue with protesters and not use the violent acts of a few as a pretext to restrict or impede the rest from exercising their rights. Where investigations are opened for alleged offences committed during the protests, these must be for internationally recognised crimes and proportionate to the alleged offence.

“It is also crucial that the National Police addresses the root cause of the unrest by promptly launching an investigation into the allegations of discrimination and unlawful use of force against Papuan students in Surabaya, Semarang and Malang over the weekend. The recent allegations of discrimination by the police are only the latest accusations of such treatment over the years. The police has so far failed to protect Papuans from any form of discrimination, sending a worrying message that these acts are tolerated by the authorities.”

Background

On 15 August, a group of Papuan students staged a protest in Malang, East Java, to reject the 1962 New York Agreement that transferred control of the territory of Papua from the Netherlands to the United Nations. In May 1963, de facto control was transferred to Indonesia, pending a referendum to determine the political status of the territory to be held by 1969. However, the police refused to grant the Papuan students in Malang permission to hold the demonstration due to “security reasons”. The demonstration went ahead without official authorization, and was then met with attacks from a group of people in the city. The situation worsened when Malang deputy mayor made a discriminatory statement saying “we will see, we have an option on the table to return them [to Papua]”.

In Surabaya, around 2 hours from Malang, a group of people from local religious organizations attacked a dormitory of Papuan students accusing them of destroying the national flag of Indonesia and throwing it in the sewer on August 16, one day before the celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day on August 17. They verbally attacked Papuan students, calling them “monkey, dog, animal and pig”. Instead of dispersing the crowd that was attacking the students, the police surrounded the dormitory and asked Papuan students to turn themselves in. The standoff continued the following day; the police fired tear gas before arresting 43 Papuan students. The police took them in for questioning but released them on Sunday after finding no evidence that they had destroyed an Indonesian flag.

Both incidents in Surabaya and Malang triggered Papuans to stage protests in Manokwari and Sorong in West Papua, during which the local legislative council in Manokwari was burned down. They also destroyed public facilities and residents’ homes. In addition, angry mobs also disrupted activities at an airport and burned a penitentiary in Sorong.

According to international law and standards, the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly should not be subject to the permission of government authorities. The UN Human Rights Committee that monitors States compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Indonesia is a party, has determined that advance notice requirements are only legitimate to the extent that they allow states to plan to adequately facilitate assemblies, and should serve no other purpose such as of advance authorization to preclude people from protesting.