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Indonesian Papuans protesting in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta. Indonesian Papuans protesting in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta.  (ANSA)

Indonesia bishop urges calm in Papua, denounces racism

Violence has flared in Indonesia’s provinces of Papua and West Papua, following reports about security forces and angry mobs allegedly maltreating and hurling racist taunts at Papuan university students in East Java.

By Robin Gomes

An Indonesian bishop has condemned the ongoing violence in Papua and the alleged physical attacks and racist taunts against Papuan students that sparked it.

All people “share a noble dignity which must be respected and protected,” Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi MSC of Amboina said on Thursday.  The bishop who is apostolic administrator of Merauke Archdiocese in the province of West Papua, denounced racism as “an inhumane and immoral act,” saying, “it is understandable that they feel offended by racist abuse”.

Violence erupted in the provinces of West Papua and Papua on Monday following reports that security forces and angry mobs reportedly attacked some 40 Papuan university students living in the East Javan cities of Surabaya and Malang on August 16, verbally abusing them with racist taunts. 

After accusing the students of damaging an Indonesian flag during Independence Day celebrations, the police arrested them while an angry mob called them "monkeys", "pigs" and "dogs".   They were later released.

In what is regarded as the largest protests in Indonesia’s eastern-most region, buildings have been torched, including the West Papua Regional Legislative Council (DPRD) in Manokwari, a jail, a market and a hotel.

Bishop Mandagi expressed sadness over the violence, calling for peaceful protests.  “Papuan people,” he said, “are civilized and dignified.”   “They should not be savage like those who spout racism,” he said.

The government has flown some 1,200 extra security forces to the region, which is already the country’s most heavily militarized region. 

Police on Wednesday arrested some 34 people in the Papuan town of Timika, where thousands of protesters threw stones at a parliament building, houses, shops and a hotel. 

Resentment and hurt

While the racist taunts appeared to have sparked the violent protests, it is, in fact, the simmering resentment and separatist movement that provided the fuel. 

Residents of the two eastern provinces are ethnically similar.  The region became part of Indonesia controversially in the 1960s, despite the former Dutch colony declaring independence in 1961.

Since then, a separatist movement has been simmering among Papuans who complain of discrimination and rights abuses at the hands of Indonesian authorities.

On Thursday, more than a hundred Papuan students marched to the gates of the presidential palace in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, shouting pro-independence slogans demanding "Referendum for Papua" or "Freedom for Papua". 

Some of them were dressed in traditional clothes and with bodies painted in the colours of Papua’s banded flag.  They held posters demanding the right to self-determination and an end to racism and colonialism in West Papua.

Others held a smaller protest in the nearby city of Bogor.

Calming tempers

Rights group and journalists associations on Friday urged the communication ministry to end an internet blackout in Papua that started on Wednesday night.  Telephone calls and text messages were unaffected.  

While Papuans said the protesters would continue, Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, claimed on Thursday that West Papua had returned to normal. 

In an attempt to calm tempers, he pledged action against racial and ethnic discrimination, saying he has ordered the national police chief to “take stern, legal action against acts of racial and ethnic discrimination.” 

Meanwhile, thousands of Indonesians have been taking part in protests throughout the country, condemning the mistreatment and racial abuse against Papuans and demanding justice and an end to discrimination against them. (Source: UCANEWS)

23 August 2019, 15:27