Many Papuans face severe racism and discrimination throughout the rest of Indonesia, especially Papuan students in other parts of the country who often have to face completely unfounded suspicions of radicalism – so much so that they can’t even have a simple movie night without attracting the attention of the police.
That was the case in Surabaya on Tuesday, when the local chapter of the Papuan Student Alliance (AMP) organized a group movie screening and discussion on the film “The First Grader”.
Despite the film not even having anything to do with Papua or the country’s political situation (it’s based on the true story of an 84-year-old Kenyan farmer who enrolled in elementary school for the first time following his government’s announcement of free universal primary education in 2003) the mere idea of Papuan students gathering to watch and discuss a movie about “black people” was apparently enough of a justification for the Surabaya police to send 40 officers to “secure” the event.
Tambaksari Police Chief Prayitno said the response was necessary because there were, as Tempo put it in their report, “indications the film was about black skin people”.
“The film is contrary to our culture and the culture of the nationm” Priyatno said when contacted by the news outlet on Tuesday night, adding that the police presence was necessary to “anticipate the ideology of the Papuan people.”
Priyanto was likely referring to the separatists movement in Papua. And while advocating and supporting separatists movements in Indonesia is illegal, the police had no evidence that Tuesday’s movie event had anything to do with that.
The Surabaya Legal Aid Institute (LBH Surabaya) criticized the police’s decision to send officers to the event as a human rights violation, stating that such actions (which authorities have done on multiple occasions previously) were caused by the stigmatization of Papuan students
“There are excessive fears by security forces whenever activities are done by Papuan students,” LBH Surabaya representative Hosnan told Tempo.
Hosnan said freedom of expression, including discussions and film events, were the right of all Indonesian citizens, adding that “The First Grader” was not in any way contrary to Indonesia’s state ideology.
Despite the police’s seeming attempt to intimidate the student participants, the film screening and discussion eventually took place as planned.
But we shudder to think what police might do if the student group decides to hold a screening of Black Panther at some point in the future…