Tensions rise in Sorong, Jayapura and Manokwari. Protesters attack and set fire to some public buildings. Two days ago, 43 Papuan students were arrested for not celebrating Indonesian independence.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Episodes of racism against Papuan students in Surabaya and Malang (East Java province) are the cause of protests that this morning inflamed several cities in Indonesia’s easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua.
Protests and disorders broke out in Manokwari, Sorong and Jayapura. In the first of the three cities, capital of West Papua, the crowd took to the streets attacking and setting fire to some public buildings, including the Provincial Legislative Council and the former Papua Governor's Office.
According to the National Police (Polri), false information on social media contributed to the violence.
The incident that set off the violence occurred last Friday, the day when Indonesia marked the 74th anniversary of independence.
Members of the Armed Forces (TNI) raided a dormitory for Papuan students in Surabaya, after Islamists and Indonesian far-right groups accused the former of discarding an Indonesian flag.
During the raid, law enforcement used tear gas and arrested 43 students. The latter were released a few hours later after being taken into custody at the Surabaya Police Station.
According to other accounts, the incident was caused by a misunderstanding. The flag found in front of the dormitory belonged to the regional administration building across from the street.
A few days before the national holiday, rumours spread in Surabaya and Malang that Papuan university students planned violent protests for the occasion, in an attempt to draw public attention to the question of Papuan independence. Some locals reacted to the rumours with insults and assaults.
Since the annexation of the region to Indonesia in 1969, the West Papua National Liberation Army (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional Papua Barat, TPNPB) and the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM) have been seeking independence for the Papua region in a low intensity conflict.
In April 2018, Joko Widodo was the first Indonesian president to visit the distant region.
Local communities and leaders have repeatedly filed complaints against the central government for the excessive exploitation of the region’s natural resources, whilst human rights activists report frequent discrimination and widespread intolerance towards Papuans who emigrated to other parts of the country.