Pacific News Minute: Indonesian President To Visit West Papua After Violent Protests

Aug 21, 2019

The Jakarta Post reports that Indonesian President Joko Widodo will visit restive West Papua next week after violent protests there on Monday. Demonstrations erupted on news that Papuan students in Java had been subjected to racial abuse and arrest over the weekend.

The trouble started last Friday night, the eve of Indonesia’s independence day, in the East Javan city of Surabaya. Rumors spread that an Indonesian flag that normally hangs outside a university dormitory that houses Papuan students had been thrown into a sewer. 

A nationalist crowd gathered in front of the dorm chanting anti-Papuan slogans and threats, and singing the national anthem. Power to the building was cut.  Videos of the crowd posted to social media recorded chants of, “get rid of the Papuans right now,” and “monkeys, get out.”

When the mob returned on Saturday morning, police and troops intervened, breaking into the dormitory and arresting 43 students.  A police spokesperson told Australia’s ABC that they stormed the building to investigate alleged slander on the national flag, and because the mob was about to attack. CNN Indonesia reported at least 23 shots of teargas were fired in the assault. The Jakarta Post reported that officials cursed the students as they arrested them, calling them monkeys and pigs. All of the students were released without charge nine hours later.

On Monday, angry crowds gathered in several cities in West Papua. Some set fire to tires in the streets of the provincial capital of Manokwari and videos showed the provincial legislative council building on fire as well.

Police were reported back in control by Tuesday.

In his statement appealing for calm, President Joko Widodo said, “I know there are some grievances. It is better to forgive and be patient.”