Papuan Lives Matter
The government must not continue its mistaken policies in Papua. Stop the violence and start the dialogue.
INSTEAD of prioritizing dialogue to bring about peace in Papua, the government has committed a gross mistake by stifling freedom of expression. At the beginning of June, the prosecutor in the trial of seven Papuans at the Balikpapan District Court, East Kalimantan, demanded jail sentences between five and 17 years. The men are accused of provoking huge demonstrations in Papua that ended in violence in August 2019. The fact is those protests were reaction to the racism against students from Papua in Surabaya, East Java, in the lead up to Indonesian Independence Day. The prosecution accused them of treason—a misplaced charge that turns them into enemies of the state.
According to Amnesty International Indonesia, 44 other detainees have also been charged with treason over protests that ended peacefully. From 2019 to 2020, it is estimated that 120 activists and Papuan civilians were jailed for the same offense. Stifling protest is anti-democratic. Resolving the Papuan problem by arresting people simply fosters hatred.
We hope that the judges do not agree to the prosecutors’ demands. This is not only a threat to justice for the people of Papua, but also muzzles freedom of opinion—the most fundamental human right. The judges at the Balikpapan District Court could be guided by the ruling of the Jakarta State Administrative Court regarding the blocking of the Internet in Papua for around three months after the demonstrations spread. In its ruling of July 3, the administrative court judges ruled that the government action was legally flawed.
At the beginning of his first term, President Joko Widodo used sympathetic approach with the people of Papua. He frequently visited the province and prioritized a welfare approach when interacting with the Papuans. What the president did not do was to continue the welfare approach with a political one prioritizing dialogue. There was increasing violence by the security forces in a number of locations. While this repression continued, a number of economic programs from the government did not amount to much—rather they gave the impression of papering over the cracks.
The central government must expand and intensify dialogue with prominent Papuans. Even though it may be tiring, dialogue will reduce the tension and armed conflict. The president should consider the suggestion for the government to withdraw some of the Indonesian Military and National Police personnel. The presence of the police and the military in large numbers has in fact worsened the violence.
The government should expand the conversation about Papua through public discussions. People both in and outside Papua must understand what is happening there. We regret the pressure by campus authority around a discussion entitled Papuan Lives Matter: Racism of the Law in Papua which was organized on June 6 by the University of Indonesia Student Executive Body. The leadership of the university sent out the letter protesting about this discussion.
The government must not ignore the concerns of the international community about Papua. In this digital era, nothing can be hidden. The world can see what is happening in Papua and how Jakarta is dealing with it. Closing off dialogue and promoting violence will only invite antipathy from the international community. Along with the rise of the antiracism movement, global opinion, which in general does not support Papuan independence, could see a reverse. If this happens, Jakarta will be cornered and will find it difficult to stem the tide.