Three years after the anti-racism protests, dozens of people are still imprisoned
(Jakarta) – Indonesian authorities should immediately drop charges of politically motivated treason and release Papuans detained for peacefully exercising their rights in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, Human Rights Watch said today.
On August 17, 2019, a racist mob consisting of security forces and members of militant groups attacked students in a West Papua university dormitory in the city of Surabaya, East Java. Three years later, Indonesian authorities continue to subject indigenous Papuans to racial discrimination and intimidation, arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings and mass forced displacement.
“For decades, Indonesian security forces have routinely subjected indigenous Papuans to wrongful arrests and acts of violence, yet they have never been brought to justice for these rights violations,” said Phil Robertson, Director deputy for Asia at Human Rights Watch. “The Indonesian government should stop harassing and arresting peaceful Papuan protesters, and immediately release activists prosecuted for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Video footage of the attack three years ago shows officers shouting racial slurs at students from West Papua while forcing their way into the dormitory and firing tear gas. Police have arrested 43 indigenous Papuan students for allegedly failing to raise the Indonesian flag outside the dormitory to celebrate Indonesia’s Independence Day. Authorities released the students later that day. But for nearly a month, the students had to sleep outside their dorms due to the lingering toxic smell of tear gas.
Widespread protests ensued in at least 30 cities across Indonesia after video footage leaked online and news of the event was reported. Some protests have turned violent and Indonesian settlers and indigenous Papuans have been killed in places such as Wamena and Jayapura. Indonesian authorities responded to the protests over the following months by arresting at least 22 peaceful protesters for treason.
The human rights situation in Papua and West Papua continued to deteriorate amid escalating fighting between pro-independence Papuan insurgents and Indonesian security forces.
Almost two years after his arrest, Victor Yeimo, 39, spokesperson for the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB), is still being held by the police. Police arrested him on May 9, 2021 in Jayapura and charged him with treason for calling for an independence referendum during anti-racism protests following the Surabaya attack. After Yeimo’s arrest, media reported that up to 130 protesters were arrested in the West Papuan capital of Manokwari.
While incarcerated, Yeimo was denied access to life-saving medical treatment and as a result, by August 2021 his health had deteriorated to life-threatening levels. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis after his arrest and was recently hospitalized to receive treatment for the disease.
In September 2021, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, publicly expressed her concerns to Indonesian authorities regarding the charges against Yeimo and the neglect of her medical needs.
In a June 26, 2020 letter to the Indonesian government, a group of UN Special Rapporteurs raised concerns about the harassment, intimidation and criminalization of human rights defenders in Papua. They also raised allegations of acts of intimidation against Wensislaus Fatubun, a communications adviser to the official Papuan People’s Assembly. Indonesian police arrested Fatubun on November 17, 2020, along with 84 others, ahead of a series of meetings organized by the Papuan People’s Assembly in Merauke. He was released the next day.
Successive Indonesian governments, including the current administration of President Joko Widodo, have sought to crush the Papuan independence movement by increasing Indonesian troops and police in the region. Authorities routinely violate Papuans’ rights to freedom of expression and association, including by criminalizing the display of the Papuan “morning star” flag, in violation of the International Covenant on Human Rights. civilians and politicians, to which Indonesia is a party.
On August 15, a prosecutor called for a one-year sentence for seven Papuan students detained since December 1, 2021 for raising the Morning Star Flag. They are Melvin Yobe, 29; Melvin Fernando Waine, 25; Devio Tekege, 23; Yosep Ernesto Matuan, 19; Maksimus Simon Petrus You, 18; Lukas Kitok Uropmabine, 21; and Ambrosius Fransiskus Elopere, 21.
On March 1, UN experts again expressed concern, calling for an independent investigation into reports that Indonesian security forces had abused indigenous Papuans, and asking Indonesian authorities to allow humanitarian access without region restriction.
In June, authorities arrested 44 demonstrators who were peacefully protesting controversial plans by Indonesian authorities to create three new provinces in Papua. Many activists saw it as a government effort to “divide and conquer” the indigenous Papuan identity and movement.
Rather than seeking to reduce tensions and address the concerns of the indigenous peoples of Papua, the Indonesian government has sought to further divide the region by dividing the province of Papua into four separate provinces. Activists have raised concerns that the plan would lead to further militarization of Papua while giving the Indonesian government greater control over the resource-rich region.
Human Rights Watch takes no position on Papuan demands for self-determination, but supports the right of everyone, including independence supporters, to peacefully express their political views without fear of arrest or other forms. of retaliation.
“On the third anniversary of the heinous attacks of 2019, the Indonesian government should recognize that the arrest and imprisonment of peaceful Papuan activists perpetuate problems and unrest,” Robertson said. “Indonesian police and military operations must be conducted lawfully and in a manner that respects and upholds the rights to freedom of expression and association of indigenous people.
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