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Systemic Racism in Papua Must Be Removed Too!

Responding to the growing global protest against racism triggered by the death of George Floyd in the United States and in relation to the heavy-handed practices against freedom of expression in Papua and racist violence against Papuans, Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid said:

“We call on the authority to end all systemic racism against Papuans by guaranteeing their rights to freedom of expression. The government has to take a strong stand against racism and must, instead, promote human rights.”

“The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis must be a reminder that discrimination and intimidation also happen to native Papuans in Indonesia, and most of the cases are yet to be resolved.”

“For years, hundreds of native Papuans have suffered racism and brutality by law enforcers. While being involved in peaceful rallies, many of them were arrested and charged with treason. Many of them are currently behind bars.”

“All citizens, including Papuans, have the rights to peacefully express their opinions in public as guaranteed by international law. All forms of excessive force must be stopped, and all violations against protesters must be investigated.”

“We also urge the authority to immediately release 51 Papuan prisoners of conscience. They do not deserve to be in jail since in the first place because they committed no crimes. Justice must be upheld.”

Background

As of 2 June 2020, there are around 51 prisoners of conscience (PoCs) from Papua, including political activists and human rights defenders, who are still behind bars, mostly on charges of treason. They were arrested and imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights or expressing their views.

In August 2019, protests were sparked in several regions by racist attacks against Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java. In the city, several people from nationalist and Islamic organisations attacked a dormitory of Papuan students, accusing them of throwing the national flag of Indonesia into the sewer before the celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day, and used derogatory slurs including “monkey,” “dog,” “animal,” and “pig” against them.

Instead of dispersing the crowd that was attacking the students, police surrounded the dormitory and asked Papuan students to turn themselves in.

The standoff continued protesting the racism, yet police responded with excessive force by firing tear gas and arresting 43 Papuan students. The police took them in for questioning, but released them after finding no evidence that they had destroyed an Indonesian flag.

In the same month in Malang, East Java, a group of Papuan students staged a protest to reject the 1962 New York Agreement, which transferred control of the territory of Papua from the Netherlands to the United Nations.

Demonstrations went ahead despite police refusing to grant the Papuan students in Malang “permission” to hold the protest, citing “security reasons.” The situation worsened when groups of Malang residents attacked protesters, and the Malang deputy mayor made a discriminatory statement saying: “we will see, we have an option on the table to return them [to Papua].”

Security forces have often used repressive measures against pro-independence activists, such as blanket

prohibitions on peaceful protest, mass arrests, and prosecution under the treason (makar) articles in the Criminal Code (mostly under Articles 106 and 110 for crimes against the security of the state). With heightened pro-independence political activism in Papua in the last decade, particularly led by students and youth, this trend is increasing.

As a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Indonesia is required to refrain from acts that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty. Article 19 of the ICCPR and General comment No. 34 on Article 19 of the ICCPR specifically protect the right to freedom of expression.

It is also closely linked to freedom of association – the right to  form and join clubs, societies, trade unions or political parties with anyone you choose, and freedom of peaceful assembly – the right to take part in a peaceful demonstration or public meeting.

Our organization takes no position whatsoever on the political status of any province of Indonesia, including on calls for independence. However, we consider that the right to freedom of expression protects the right to peacefully advocate for independence or any other political solutions that do not involve incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence.