Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – Indonesian rights activists said the brutal response of police toward protesting Papuan students has incited hatred and could further strengthen the resolve among Papuans to demand independence.
"If this approach continues, it is possible that in a few years no more Papuans will claim to be part of Indonesia," Budi Hernawan, activist with the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy, said at a Dec. 3 press conference in Jakarta.
Several hundred protesters, mostly Papuan students, rallied Dec. 1 in Jakarta to commemorate the anniversary of Papua's 1961 independence from Dutch colonial rule, in which the Morning Star flag was first unfurled. The Indonesian government has banned the raising of the Morning Star flag.
Police used tear gas and forcibly dispersed the protesters. At least a dozen students were injured, with one reportedly suffering a fractured skull. Some 306 students were arrested and later released.
In Nabire in Papua province, 32 people were also arrested during a simultaneous protest and later released.
Jakarta police chief Tito Karnavian told reporters that the police responded with tear gas after students threw stones at police. Two police officers were injured in the melee, he said.
Hernawan – a former Franciscan missionary – said the tactics used by police against Papuan protesters was similar to what was done against the people of East Timor, when that country was still part of Indonesia.
"The pattern is similar. Brutality committed in East Timor made people angry, fearful and increasingly consolidated the opposition movement," he said.
Puri Kencana Putri from the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence said repressive acts indicate that there is no good news for human rights in Papua. She also questioned the commitment of the government for peace in the restive province. "Police should have behaved in a more humane way," she said.
Meanwhile, Frans Nawipa of the Papua Students Alliance who participated in the rally said Papuans should have the right to determine their own future.
"We want to live in a society without constantly being victims of violence and cruelty," he said. He also questioned why a struggle for self-determination was considered a separatist movement. "What we understand is that separatist movements use weapons. What we did was peaceful," he said.
Father Paul Rahmat of Vivat International-Indonesia said he lamented the lack of church support in Papua in addressing the repressive violence used by Indonesian authorities against the Papuan people.
"Efforts in education, health and others have been made. However, we also need the voice of the church as an institution to protest such violence," he said.
A low-level insurgency has simmered for decades in resource-rich Papua.