Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – An Indonesian politician has come under fire after making racist comments about a former Papuan member of the country's National Human Rights Commission.
Ambroncius Nababan, who unsuccessfully stood as a candidate in a Papuan constituency in the last national assembly elections, is accused of likening Natalius Pigai, a Catholic, to an ape.
In a Facebook post that later went viral, Nababan posted a photo of Pigai next to a gorilla along with a comment criticizing the rights activist's opposition to the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine made in China.
"We apologize profusely. The Sinovac vaccine is made for humans, not for gorillas," he wrote.
He also posted another photo with a caption in which a gorilla is saying to Pigai, "Our vaccine is not Sinovac but a rabies vaccine."
The photos and comments sparked outrage on social media and a barrage of criticism of Nababan, a former chairman of a volunteer group supporting President Joko Widodo.
Stefanus Gusma from the Catholic Youth group said racism cannot be justified under any circumstances and called for action to be taken against Nababan.
"Such racism directed at Natalius Pigai is a violation of human dignity," he told UCA News. He said comments like this further erode pluralism and democratic values which prioritize unity in diversity.
Pigai, who has often been critical of the government, said refusing to be vaccinated was his right.
He was responding to an earlier statement by Edward Hiariej, the deputy minister on law and human rights, who said people who refused the Covid-19 vaccine could be punished.
Filep Wamafma, a Papuan and member of the Regional Representative Council, said the government should act quickly against Nababan to avoid a repeat of riots across Indonesia in 2019 following racial abuse directed against Papuan students in Surabaya.
"This is the time for the government to show it supports all Indonesian people and that anyone who violates the law must be dealt with immediately," he said.
Pigai said he has suffered racial abuse before and said there was a hatred of ethnic Papuans among certain elements in Indonesia.
"This is ingrained. Papuans are considered as not having the right to speak critically and will never be able to live comfortably in such a racist nation," he told UCA News.
"If nothing changes, instability can occur due to racial conflicts in Papua. I am a humanitarian with a moral obligation to remind everyone of this."
He said he did not plan to report Nababan to the police but would wait for law enforcement agencies to act of their own accord. "If this nation wants to respect us, please take action," he said.
Mahfud MD, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, also criticized Nababan.
"If you do not like someone's views, don't insult them with derogatory statements or animal pictures," he tweeted without saying whether authorities would take Nababan to task over the Facebook posts.