West Papuans protest following racist attacks in Surabaya

August 22, 2019

On August 17, Indonesian Independence Day, armed Indonesian police, soldiers and radical Islamic militia stormed a student dormitory in the Indonesian city of Surabaya (on the island of Java), which housed West Papuan students, arresting 43. The attack reportedly took place because the students had allegedly refused to raise the Indonesian flag.

Indonesia invaded West Papua in 1962 and has continued a brutal occupation since. It has conducted military attacks in areas populated by civilians, under the cover of targeting West Papua’s pro-independence forces. Reports of human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings, torture and displacement are rife.

West Papuans are regularly subject to racism and according to eye-witness reports, students were tortured and called "monkeys" during the attack on August 17.

Joe Collins from the Australia West Papua Association told Green Left Weekly that during the raid on the student dormitories police fired teargas. Collins said the raid followed rumours that someone had thrown an Indonesian flag into a sewer.

“A crowd had gathered outside the dormitory yelling racists remarks such as ‘Monkey! Pig! Dog’,” Collins said.

In response to the attack, rallies in support of the West Papuan students took place in West Papua, including in Sorong, Jayapura and Timika, where it was reported that 5000 people had taken to the streets. In the Indonesian cities of Medan and Bandung the students also received local support, said Collins.

In the protests, West Papuans raised slogans against Indonesia's systematic racism, demanding freedom and a referendum on independence.

In response to the protests, Indonesia sent an extra 1000 troops to West Papua.

Collins told Green Left that Indonesia’s notorious Detachment 88 was reportedly involved in the attack in Surabaya. “Australia, with the United States and Britain help train Detachment 88,” Collins said.

“The unit was originally set up after the Bali bombing to hunt terrorists. However, in conflicts such as West Papua they would be used in a counter-insurgency role.

“Locals have reported that [West Papuan independence leader] Kelly Kwalik was killed in a raid by Detachment 88 a number of years ago.”

The raid and protests took place following some successes by West Papuans at the recent Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

Collins told Green Left that when the PIF’s foreign ministers met in Suva, Fiji in July, to lay out the agenda for the Pacific leaders summit in Tuvalu, they decided West Papua would be on the agenda. “Australia was the only country to oppose the inclusion of West Papua as part of the agenda.

“It was encouraging that West Papua was included in the official communiqué and that leaders urged Jakarta to finalise a visit [to West Papua] by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“This is what the West Papuans are always calling for: fact-finding missions to the territory, so people can see for themselves that the human rights situation is getting worse.”

While the PIF communiqué reaffirmed recognition of Indonesia’s sovereignty over West Papua, it acknowledged the escalation in violence and continued allegations of human rights abuses there and requires the UNHCR to report back on the human rights situation before the next PIF leaders meeting in 2020.

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