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Unrest in Papua: Protests Against Racism Turned Violent - Who is Responsible?

The racist treatments toward the Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, on August 17, 2019, are considered to be the culmination of the events which caused the riots to happened in several places in Papua.

The incident which happened in the Papua Provincial Government owned dormitory on Indonesia's 74th birthday pivots on two things: the alleged destruction of Indonesian flag and the racial slurs according to BBC Indonesia.

Before the the event in Surabaya happened, the tension against Papuan students were already high due to a clash between Papuan Students against local citizen in Malang, East Java, on August 15th 2019.

Racism against Papuan Students
Incident in Surabaya on 17th August 2019. Source: property of KOMPAS.COM/GHINAN SALMAN

A racist banner aimed toward Papuan students which was raised in Semarang, Central Java, on 18th August 2019, added more fuel to the already fierce fire.

According to Kompas, the riots which happened in several places in Indonesia-owned part of Papua started in Manokwari, West Papua province, on 19th August 2019. The riot also happened in Sorong, West Papua. As many as 25 public facilities and several vehicles were damaged, including Regional People's Representative Office for West Papua which was burned by the angry mobs. The rioters also burned a prison in Sorong which caused 258 inmates to escape. Internet in Papua was throttled by Indonesia Government.

Then the riot spread to Fakfak, also in West Papua, which started on Agusutst 20th, 2019. It originally started as a protest which was attended by 500 Papuan citizen. The situation turned violent after a Morning Star flag was raised.

The flag is associated with Free Papua Movement, a separatist group which wants an Indpendent Papua. The separatist group refuses to acknowledge the result of August 2, 1969 referendum which decided that Papua belongs to Indonsia. The Thumburani market was damaged.

According to tirto.id, as of September 2nd, 10 people were arrested due to their involvements in Manokwari riot. Meanwhile 7 people were arrested for Sorong riot and 3 people for Fakfak riot.

The riot also happened in Timika, Papua province on 21st August 2019. Several buildings including Regional People's Representative Office for Timika regency was damaged. As of 29th August, 10 people were designated as suspect according to a report in Kompas.

The situation in Papua was calming down until it started to become critical again on August 28th, 2019. A rally which took place in front of the office of the Deiyai regency, Papua province, led to chaos.

The rally started with 100 people but thousands more Papuan turned up in front of the office. The protesters started to shout freedom for Papua and raised Morning Star flag. They also provoked the security forces which guarded the office with war dances. The situation turned dire when the mobs attack the security with arrows, rocks and knives.

According to Kompas on September 3rd 2019, one Indonesia Armed Force and four civilians lost their lives. This article acts as an update to previous article in Nusantara Pol which stated that only two civilians were killed. As many as 10 firearms were looted, but nine of them are already returned.

There are 16 civilians injured in the incident due to bullets and arrows and 10 of the wounded are designated as suspects. According to Detik on September 4th 2019, 4 more people are added to the list of suspects which make total of 16 suspects for Deiyai riot. Meanwhile the 2 Indonesian Armed Force and 4 Police personnel were injured.

The tension in Papua still high on August 29th 2019, when a riot happened in Jayapura, Papua province. Many buildings were burned down and damaged. Communication in Jayapura was cut off.

There are 33 people which are considered as suspects for destruction in Jayapura according to Detik. One civilian was killed after being shot by the police and 4 more bodies were found but the cause of death remain unclear according to a report by Kompas on 3rd September 2019.

Internet in Papua is slowly being restored starting today, September 4th, 2019, according to Tribun News.

Suspects Responsible for the Surabaya Kerfuffle which Led to Papua Riots


One of the suspects which responsible for the incident in Surabaya and led
 to racists treatment to Papuan student has an initial TS. The issue of the flag destruction had been cooked up since 14th August 2019.

According to Kompas, the suspects invited several non-governmental organizations to plan a protest in front of the Papuan students dormitory. On 16th August 2019, through Whatsapp, she spread a false information that there had been a flag vandalism in front of the dormitory on that day.

On 17th August 2019, TS sent a provocative message which caused the NGOs to besieged the dormitory and racially abuse the students. The suspect may be charged with law related to hate speech and spreading false information.

The the real suspect who broke the flagpole remains mystery as the police is still investigating.

In an article by CNN Indonesia, snother suspect is a state civil apparatus with the initial SA. In a viral video, the suspect was caught shouting racial slurs against Papuan student during the incident in the dormitory. He is suspected of violating the law on Racial and Ethnic Elimination. He apologized to all Papuans.

Based on Tribun News report, one more suspect with initial VK was designated on 4th September 2019. The suspect may be charged due to provoking the Papuan citizens by spreading false informations related to Surabaya incident via social media. The exact whereabouts of the suspect is unclear but she is suspected to be out of the country.

VK is a human rights lawyer, a companion of Papuan students in Surabaya, and also attorney of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB).

Involevement of Benny Wenda, leader of Liberation Movement for West Papua


In CNN Indonesia on September 4th 2019, Benny Wenda, the leader of Liberation Movement for West Papua, was accused as the mastermind behind the Papua unrests by Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Wiranto, in similar tone, also said that Benny Wenda would be arrested immediately if he entered Indonesia.

Still in the same CNN Indonesia reporting, Benny Wenda refuted Indonesia government. He stated that the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto was the one who created 'Pasukan Penjaga Merah dan Putih' to trigger horizontal conflicts between Papuans and Indonesians. Nusantara Pol however could not verify the existence of the organization, which Benny referred to, and its involvement in Surabaya incident (updated on September 8th, 2019).

Benny Wenda
Benny Wenda, on of the Leader of Papua Separatist Movements. Source: The Office of Benny Wenda.

Currently, Benny Wenda lives in exile in the United Kingdom. On 6th June 2002, Benny was arrested and detained in Jayapura for allegedly being the mastermind of the attack on the Abepura Police Station and the burning of shops on 7th December 2000.

The incident was said to have killed a police officer and a security guard. He was sentenced to 25 years improsonment but, Benny escaped from prison and left Indonesia on October 27th, 2002. He was smuggled by another Papuan independence activist from Abepura prison to Papua New Guinea.

Indonesia plans to block smuggled mobile phone, read the full article here.
Shoffan M.
I am an entrepreneur and freelance writer. Writing is my passion and I have been following closely on what is happening all around me especially in Indonesia.

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