Police officer under internal investigation for allegedly giving vodka to pro-Papua protesters in Bandung

One vodka bottle allegedly given by a police officer to pro-Papua protesters in Bandung, West Java on Aug 22, 2019. Photo: Twitter/@VeronicaKoman
One vodka bottle allegedly given by a police officer to pro-Papua protesters in Bandung, West Java on Aug 22, 2019. Photo: Twitter/@VeronicaKoman

As thousands of Indonesians take part in protests throughout the country condemning racist abuse against Papuan citizens, an incident in the West Java capital of Bandung has drawn outrage for highlighting a particularly ugly stereotype about the ethnic group.

According to reports, a police officer sent two boxes containing bottles of vodka to a dormitory occupied by Papuan students yesterday afternoon while those students were out protesting. 

Soon after, the students took the boxes to the scene of the protest and returned them to the police officer, as seen in these photos included in a tweet by human rights activist Veronica Koman.

In a video taken from the same location, the police officer claimed that the contents of the bottles were non-alcoholic, but she did not drink from them when challenged by protesters to prove her claim. Towards the end of the video, one protester speaking through a megaphone can be heard saying, “Why do we think this is an insult? Because all this time, people’s perception of Papuan students, and Papuan people, is that we are drunks.”

The West Java Police have identified the police officer by her initials, SC and said is originally from Papua. SC is currently under investigation by Internal Affairs, starting with her questioning yesterday evening.

“Giving those drinks to the Papuan community of Bandung does not represent the National Police, rather it was an individual act [of the police officer],” West Java Police spokesman Trunoyudo told reporters today, as quoted by Tempo.

Police have yet to reveal SC’s motives for giving the students vodka and it’s not yet known what sanctions she may face.

On Saturday — Indonesia’s Independence Day — authorities tear-gassed and detained 43 Papuan university students in the East Java capital Surabaya for allegedly desecrating the Indonesian flag, during which time they were reportedly pelted with racist abuse by authorities.

The next day, thousands took to protest in major West Papuan and Papuan cities, including in Manokwari, where protesters torched a local parliament building. More violent protests followed throughout the week, such as in the city of Sorong where 250 inmates broke out of a local prison amidst the unrest. 

Papua has long been a sensitive subject in Indonesia due to the decades-long insurgency movement aiming to gain its independence from the archipelago nation. It’s because of that history, as well as the huge disparity in wealth between Papua and much of the rest of Indonesia, that the violent pushback against recent incidents of racism seemed inevitable in hindsight.

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