Friday, June 12, 2020


West Papua is a former Dutch colony that was absorbed into Indonesia in 1969 following a controversial referendum. An existing movement agitating for independence from Dutch rule has refocused its energies on the Jakarta government, which maintains tight control over the region.

At the far east of Indonesia, West Papua remains physically and ideologically separate from the rest of the country. Indigenous Papuans make up about half of the population. Locals claim racism is rife among the police and the military, and there have been allegations of human rights abuses and exploitation against the local population. In August 2019, protests erupted in the region over alleged police abuse against ethnic Papuan students. It was the biggest protest since 1998.

Eden Armando Bebari, 19, was allegedly shot and killed by Indonesian security forces while fishing in his home town in West Papua in April. Indonesian media described Bebari as a member of an armed criminal group, a claim denied by his parents

Suwanto and her classmates tweeted about Bebari’s death, using the hashtag #PapuanLivesMatter. The tweet went viral, focusing attention throughout Indonesia to allegations of brutality by the police, military and security forces towards West Papuans. Soon afterwards, articles, artwork, online debates and celebrity calls for action to stop the abuse were circulating on social media.
 UK-born Indonesian actor and gender-equality activist Hannah Al Rashid wrote: “I stand in solidarity with Papuan Lives Matter, because since moving to Indonesia I have observed the way in which people of darker skin have been treated unfairly, whether in the most obvious way with racial slurs, or ‘subtly’ in the way they are spoken about or represented on TV.”
Rico Tude, speaking for the Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-WP), says the Black Lives Matter movement “gives a new understanding to the Indonesian public to be more concerned to address racism against West Papuans”.

Elvira Rumbaku, a lecturer at Cenderawasih University, agreed, “It prompted Indonesians outside West Papua to understand how racist the Indonesian government is. West Papuans are always stigmatised as separatist and committed to violence; therefore, they always used security approaches and sent more troops,” she says. 

Students at the University of Indonesia are using the attention to demand justice for Cenderawasih student executive board member Ferry Gombo, who was arrested by the Indonesian government after organising a rally against racist abuse towards Papuan students in Surabaya in August last year. Gombo, one of four students being detained in Balikpapan prison, is facing a 10-year sentence if found guilty.

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