Indonesian police under fire over arrest of Papuan students, racial abuse

Jefry Wenda, coordinator of a Papuan students group covering Java and Bali ... the Papuan students in Yogyakarta have been left traumatised by police behavior. Image: Ryan Dagur/UCA

By Ryan Dagur in in Jakarta

Indonesian Church officials and activists have accused police in Yogyakarta of racism and using excessive force after six Papuan students were arrested for singing Papuan songs in their college dormitory.

“Police officers must be fair. They must protect Papuan people too,” Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops’ Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People, said.

“The government has the task to protect all citizens and disregard their ethnic background,” he said.

Police say they surrounded the dormitory belonging to Yogyakarta’s College of Community Development on July 15 to prevent a number of Papuan students from attending a banned rally organised by the People’s Union for West Papua Freedom.

The rally was aimed at supporting a bid by the Papuan nationalist group, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), to join the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

The group is an intergovernmental organisation comprising Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, as well as the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front, a political party from New Caledonia. The ULMWP currently has observer status.

The Papuan students said they initially planned to hold the rally in the city center, but decided instead to sing some Papauan songs at the dormitory after organisers failed to obtain a rally permit from local police.

Tear gas
Police allegedly used tear gas on the students before arresting them.

During the arrest it is alleged officers manhandled and racially abused the students, who were also subjected to racial taunts by local pro-Jakarta activists who had gathered to support the police as the drama unfolded.

All the students were later released on July 17 following questioning.

“Police officers must not let racial abuse happen,” said Father Siswantoko.

He said the students had the right to express their views.

“They didn’t even stage a rally, but their voices were silenced anyway,” he said, adding that there is deep-seated prejudice by locals against Papuans.

Risky Hadur, a Catholic student activist also denounced the police action.

Left traumatised
“We express our deep condolences to the death of humanity and brotherhood in this nation.”

The students were left traumatised by the incident, according to Jefry Wenda, coordinator of a Papuan students’ group covering Java and Bali.

“Police officers and other people shouted at them and called them ‘pigs’ and ‘monkeys,'” he said, calling on the government to put a stop to abuses against the Papuan people.

National Commission on Human Rights official Natalius Pigai said the incident would be investigated.

“We must not let such racial discrimination happen,” he said. “We will send a team next week to Yogyakarta to investigate.

Ryan Dagur is a contributor to the Union of Catholic Asian News service.

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