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Death toll from Papua 2019 protest month put at 59

Radio New Zealand - March 6, 2020

Johnny Blades – Researchers say 59 people died in a month of unrest in West Papua late last year.

The Indonesian-ruled provinces of Papua experienced widespread anti-racism protests and related unrest between late August and late September.

Until now, there's been little clarity on the number of people who died during the series of large protests and unrest, how they died and who they were.

The International Coalition for Papua, made up of local church groups and civil society organisations, has now compiled and released a list of those who died.

As well as violent crackdowns on protesters by security forces, the Coalition said the other main cause of the 59 deaths was ethnic violence between Papuans and non-Papuans.

Over half of those killed were aged under 25, including three children under 10. In one case, the shooting death of a 20-year-old Papuan protester by police was identified as having triggered extensive riots which caused more deaths.

Forty-one of the victims died on one day alone in the Highlands city of Wamena, many of them migrants from other parts of Indonesia including Sulawesi and Sumatra.

Indonesian authorities evacuated over 11,500 people from Wamena due to the violence, in which some of the victims are reported to have perished in buildings which caught fire.

Other deaths listed were registered as having occurred in and around Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, as well as remote Deiyai regency.

The turmoil was sparked after mass mobilisations of Papuans which began as protests against racist harassment of Papuan students in Java then quickly developed into demonstrations demanding independence in Papua.

"While the situation in West Papua has temporarily calmed down, the potential risk of further outbreaks of violence continues to exist as the root causes of the conflict remain unaddressed," the International Coalition for Papua said.

It said that Indonesia's government had not taken meaningful steps to counter the marginalisation of indigenous Papuans, tackle racist notions among Indonesian security forces and civil society.

The Coalition also suggested Jakarta should enter into dialogue with the local independence movement to settle the political conflict in West Papua.

The largest public mobilisations in decades in Papua prompted the deployment of 6000 extra security personnel to the region.

Meanwhile, the government cut off internet access in Papua in order to stem the flow of what it termed "hoax information".

Dozens of activists arrested during the protests are currently on trial, or awaiting trial, on charges of treason.

The Coalition said that the trials failed "to bring justice for most victims and their families".

"Mild sentences for perpetrators, prosecution of Papuan protesters as well as the criminalisation of political activists and human rights defenders have nourished existing anger among many indigenous Papuans."

According to the Coalition, all perpetrators should be brought to justice "at civilian courts through fair and transparent trials".

Source: https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/411118/death-toll-from-papua-2019-protest-month-put-at-5