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Pacific churches condemn harassment of Papuans in Indonesia

Radio New Zealand - August 23, 2019

The Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) has condemned what it calls institutional racism against West Papuans in Indonesia.

It has spoken out amid widespread protests in Papua region after an incident in Surabaya last week when Papuan students were harassed by a mob and later arrested.

The students were released, but government response to the harassment, and lack of an apology to Papuans, has been met with criticism in the Pacific Islands.

The conference's secretary general Reverend James Bhagwan claims that recent incidents in Java show that Indonesian authorities have been complicit in mistreatment of Papuans.

"In the context of Pacific Regionalism or the Pacific Family, to call our Melanesian sisters and brothers in West Papua 'monkeys' is to call all Pacific Islanders 'monkeys'."

"PCC and PNGCC both recognise that the incident in Surabaya included elements of the state apparatus and there is yet to be a formal apology from the state to both Indonesian citizens who are Papuans as well as indigenous people of neighbouring Papua New Guinea.

"Indonesia has to open the doors to the UN. It needs to take the band-aid off this issue and get right down to allowing the human rights people to come in. I mean, this is for Indonesia's own international credibility as well."

According to Bhagwan, Indonesia's sovereignty in Papua wouldn't be risked by allowing some openness over human rights.

"In the context of last week's Pacific Island Forum leaders' meeting, this example of institutional racism against the people of West Papua further illustrates the concerns raised about the deteriorating situation in West Papua during the Civil Society-Leaders' Dialogue," Rev Bhagwan said.

At their annual summit in Tuvalu last week, leaders of Pacific countries vowed to push Jakarta more on human rights abuses in Papua, as well as the protracted armed conflict in the region's Highlands.

Indonesia's government must open up to UN human rights mechanisms to monitor the Papua situation, Rev Bhagwan said.

"We're talking about human rights abuse. We're talking about the dignity of people. We're talking about life. And it's not compromising the issue of sovereignty or anything to start talking about how they can push Indonesia to allow the people of West Papua to have a life of dignity."

Indonesia's central government said it has throttled internet access in parts of Papua to stem the flow of what it terms "hoax news" which it has linked to the protests.

But the West Papua National Committee's international spokesman, Victor Yeimo, says the move shows the government is trying to hide the truth.

"The Indonesians try to close the internet in Jayapura so people can only hear all the propaganda by them through the television. This is how they're going to close what's really happening in West Papua, also in Java in the student dormitories."

Source: https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/397357/pacific-churches-condemn-harassment-of-papuans-in-indonesia