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Black Lives Matter protests spark reminder of 'deeply rooted' racial injustice towards West Papuans

ABC News - June 12, 2020

Tasha Wibawa – The Black Lives Matter movement has inspired many Indigenous minorities to speak out about systemic racism in their own countries, but in some countries like Indonesia, their cries remain largely unheard.

Some Black Lives Matter protesters in Australia over the weekend wore the unofficial West Papua morning star flag – interpreted as a symbol of resistance and independence from Indonesian rule.

Racism towards Papuans in Indonesia is a complicated issue, due to the nature of the region's acquisition, its vast mining deposits, government censorship and limited educational resources about the region's history within the country.

Activists including Veronica Koman, an outspoken pro-Papuan human rights lawyer, said the global anti-racism movement had generated new momentum in Indonesia.

The hashtag #PapuanLivesMatter was trending on Twitter for days and used alongside #BlackLivesMatter.

"Like elsewhere, the global movement has also been adapted to become Papuan Lives Matter [in Indonesia]," Ms Koman told the ABC.

"I'm seeing more enthusiasm among Indonesians in educating themselves about racism and what's happening towards West Papuans even more than last year."

Human Rights Watch's Andreas Harsono posted a tweet comparing the death of George Floyd to an incident man in Indonesia a few years ago.

"George Floyd being restrained is similar to the 2016 case of Obby Kogoya, a Papuan man whose head was stepped on by [an] Indonesian cop, when his dorm was under siege in Yogyakarta, Java Island #PapuanLivesMatter #BlackLivesMatter," it said.

The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua lie in the resource-rich western part of the island of New Guinea, where its people have close cultural and ethnic ties to Melanesia.

The region was colonised by the Dutch before being incorporated into Indonesia following a widely criticised UN-backed referendum in 1969 where only certain men were allowed to vote.

Teuku Faizasyah, spokesperson for the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the ABC "racism had no place in Indonesia" and denied all allegations of systemic racist attitudes towards Papuans.

"The incidents of mistreatment of Indonesians of Papuan origin are isolated and do not in any way reflect the policies of the Government," he said.

"To equate those isolated incidents with a global movement for equality misses the point. Moreover, the proponents of the Papuan campaign are those who aim to separate the provinces of Papua from Indonesia."

'Spectacularly unjust' treason case

There are currently dozens of Papuans imprisoned for treason under articles 106 and 110 of the Indonesian criminal code, according to NGO Papuans Behind Bars.

A UN working group has previously criticised the articles for being "drafted in such general and vague terms that they can be used arbitrarily to restrict the freedoms of opinion, expression, assembly and association".

In one ongoing case described by human rights lawyers and activists as "spectacularly unjust", prosecutors in Balikpapan's district court are seeking prison sentences of between five and 17 years for seven Papuans accused of treason over unrest across the region last year, when thousands took to the streets demanding independence and an end to racial violence.

The August 2019 protests were sparked by viral videos of Indonesian security forces using racial slurs against a group of Papuan students, who were accused of committing "slander" against the Indonesian flag on the nation's Independence Day, before storming their dormitories and reportedly firing tear gas.

Those on trial include high-profile activist Buchtar Tabuni from the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. Prosecutors have demanded a 17-year sentence for his alleged role in the uprising.

Lawyers, human rights activists and supporters of the defendants, including Ms Koman, said the charges were "politically driven".

"The hearings have been all about trialling the West Papuans' political beliefs, and not about the riots that happened last year at all," said Ms Koman, who has been following the cases online.

"If you compare the charges, the perpetrators of racism involved in the [Independence Day] incident received sentences of up to 10 months and are now released.

Investigations into unlawful killings of Papuans are 'rare'

Advocacy lawyer Pieter Ell said articles 106 and 110 had been used in the past two years to silence dissidents from openly discussing or protesting about Papuan injustices.

"These articles of treason are regularly used in Papua and instead of officials addressing the deeply rooted problems, they've silenced any expressions which are seen as a disturbance towards the safety and stability of the region," Mr Ell told a press conference.'Treated like animals' in West Papua

Last month Amnesty International filed a report on civil and political rights violations in Papua and West Papua to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, saying non-government organisations had "long raised serious concerns about crimes under international law and serious human rights violations".

These violations include extra-judicial executions by security forces in Papua and arbitrary arrests, the report said.

Amnesty International said it documented several patterns based in a review of 69 cases of suspected unlawful killings by security forces in Papua between January 2010 and February 2018.

It found 41 cases of suspected unlawful killing happened due to "security forces [using] excessive force to handle peaceful protests, incidents of public disorder, and attempts to arrest criminal suspects", and 28 cases of suspected unlawful killings related to security forces dealing with "peaceful political protests, particularly flag-raising ceremonies or religious gatherings on commemoration dates".

The report also highlighted 26 cases of suspected unlawful killings of Papuan civilians by Indonesian security forces between March 2018 and May 2020, and said investigations into those involved were "rare".

"All of the 26 cases happened when security forces used excessive force to handle peaceful social protests, incidents of public disorder," the report stated.

"There is no independent, effective, and impartial mechanism to deal with public complaints about misconduct by security forces, including criminal offences involving human rights violations, leaving many victims without access to justice, truth and reparation."

The ABC has contacted the Indonesian National Police for comment but has not received a response.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-12/black-lives-matter-protests-debate-over-racism-papuans-indonesia/1233158