Along with thousands of Indonesians who have taken part in protests throughout the country this week condemning mistreatment and racial abuse against Papuan citizens, dozens of college students in Bali took to the streets of Renon in Denpasar yesterday to demand justice and an end to discrimination against Papuans.
“We demand an end to discrimination and racist remarks towards Papuan students and people,” said Jeeno Dogomo, a spokesman for the protest in Denpasar, as reported by Tribun-Bali.
The participating students, who are reportedly members of the IMMAPA, an association of Papuan people and students, also demanded a thorough investigation of incidents that occurred in Surabaya and Malang last week that set off this week’s protests.
In Surabaya, authorities tear-gassed and detained 43 Papuan university students for allegedly desecrating the Indonesian flag, during which time they were reportedly pelted with racial abuse by authorities.
The incident prompted thousands to protest in major West Papuan and Papuan cities the next day, including in Manokwari, where protesters torched a local parliament building.
Since then, Papuans and fellow Indonesians in other cities across the archipelago have taken part in similar protests, including in the capital, Jakarta, and in Sorong, West Papua.
On Wednesday, Indonesia’s Ministry of Information and Communications (Kominfo) blocked internet access in Papua and West Papua, citing fears that fake news and offensive posts would spark more violent protests in the region.
In response, the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) is pressing the Indonesian government to lift the ban, using the hashtag #KeepItOn on social media and calling on the public to protest the move.
“Blocking and restricting access to internet in Papua and West Papua will make it harder for people living outside of the two provinces to verify facts and what has happened [and] to check on the safety of friends and relatives,” SAFEnet Executive Director, Damar Juniarto, said in a press release.
Papua has long been a sensitive subject in Indonesia. Despite the abundant natural wealth in Papua and West Papua, both provinces remain among the poorest in the country.
The government maintains its sovereign rights to the region based on the controversial 1969 referendum – widely seen as a sham – in which only some 1,000 people were allowed to vote on whether they would stay a part of Indonesia on behalf of 800,000 other Papuans.
Since then, a decades-long insurgency movement has aimed to gain Papua’s independence from the archipelago nation. The recent incidents of racism have arguably generated powerful momentum for Papuans to call for the right to self-determination.