Nur Janti, Jakarta – Amnesty International Indonesia has called out the government for excessive use of force in Papua last week against protesters who were rallying against Jakarta's plan to create new provinces in the country's easternmost region. People took to the streets on Friday in areas across Papua, such as Yahukimo, Paniai, Nabire and Jayapura, to once again oppose the plan.
At least 25 people were injured when the police dispersed demonstrations in the four towns and arrested 44 protesters, according to Amnesty International Indonesia. "Indigenous Papuans have a right to peacefully protest against government policies without running the risk of being arrested or beaten," Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said in a statement on Friday.
"These repeated incidents show that the state has no respect for the voices of indigenous Papuans." Indigenous Papuans and activists have repeatedly raised concerns over Jakarta's plan to establish new provinces, fearing it would be used as a pretext to tighten government control over Papua.
Over the past months, representatives from Papua have also been meeting with government agencies, human rights groups and other stakeholders to voice their concerns over new policies and demanded the resolution of human rights cases.
But Jakarta remains unmoved and continues excluding Papuans in the plan to form new provinces, which it says is necessary due to Papua's vast size and to accelerate development.
Friday was not the first time law-enforcement authorities have used excessive force to handle protests in Papua.
In mid-May, the police used water cannons and batons against protesters in Jayapura who opposed the plan for the major redistricting. In March, two people were killed and several others injured when a protest against the same plan turned violent in Yahukimo.
Police violence against demonstrators in Papua was also recorded last year when people protested against the amendment of the Papuan Special Autonomy Law, which became the basis for the creation of the new provinces. A peaceful rally in Jayapura turned violent on July 14, 2021, during which four students were injured.
A day later in Jakarta, the police arrested at least 50 people and injured one during a protest in front of the House of Representatives complex. Amnesty said that one protester had been beaten, punched, stamped on and racially abused by members of the security forces before being taken to the Jakarta Police headquarters.
The amended law includes a provision that allows the House and the government to create new provinces, cities and regencies without the approval of the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP) or the existing provincial-level legislative councils (DPRP). In the previous version of the law, the creation of new administrative areas could go ahead only after being approved by the MRP and DPRP.
"The government claims that it wants to 'develop' Papua and create prosperity for Papuans," Usman said. "But how can Papuans be prosperous if their attempts to express their opinions and aspirations are met with violence?" Jaleswari Pramodhawardani, the Executive Office of the President's undersecretary for politics, law, security and human rights affairs, said the government would accommodate Papuan voices regarding the establishment of new provinces in Papua, tempo.co reported.
Her statement came two days before President Joko "Jokowi"' Widodo sent out a letter to continue deliberations of the plan at the House.