Jakarta. Alleged racism and police brutality against Papuan students in East Java on Saturday triggered violent protests in cities in Indonesia’s two easternmost provinces on Monday.
Police said false information about officers killing Papuan students during raids in Malang and Surabaya went viral over the weekend, triggering public anger in their hometowns. Police maintain that no Papuan students had been arrested or harmed in the raids.
“The incidents in Surabaya and Malang were minor and were neutralized. While there was fake news spreading about officers saying improper words and about deaths of Papuan students, all of it was fake news that spread to people in Papua,” National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian said in Surabaya on Monday, as reported by Kompas TV.
Tito called on the people of Papua, especially in Manokwari, to not be provoked.
Separately, East Java Police spokesman Chief Comr. Frans Barung Mangera said no Papuan students had been arrested but that officers had escorted some to a nearby police station after a standoff with a group of angry residents.
The incident occurred on Friday afternoon, when about 500 members of a mass organization confronted the Papuan students at their boarding house in Jalan Kalasan in Surabaya, accusing them of desecrating the national flag. A representative of the students has denied the accusation to Kompas.com.
Police reportedly intervened after members of the crowd refused to accept the students’ explanation.
“The police arrived to ensure their safety … all 43 students returned [to their boarding house],” the police spokesman said.
However, the incident resulted in widespread anger, which spun out of control in Manokwari and Sorong in West Papua. Protesters set fire to the Regional Representative Council building in Manokwari and barricaded roads, which brought the city of about 140,000 residents to a standstill. Protesters also tried to occupy the airport in Sorong before the police and military intervened.
A similar rally in Jayapura, the capital of Papua, proceeded without incident. Monday’s rallies were held to protest perceived discrimination against Papuan people.
Call for Forgiveness
East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa said on Monday that she had contacted her counterparts in Papua and West Papua to apologize for the incident. She said Papuans remained welcome in East Java.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who has won the Papuan people’s respect for his efforts to uplift the area and bring it on par with the rest of the country, called for calm and urged people to refrain from exaggerating or exploiting the situation.
“I know there was offense, therefore, as fellow countrymen, it would be better to forgive each other,” he said.
The president added that the government would ensure prosperity and protect the dignity of the people of Papua.
The National Police’s cybercrime unit is meanwhile trying to track down the source of the allegedly false information that triggered Monday’s violent protests.
Police have also sent 90 officers from Sorong to Manokwari to stabilize the situation, Kompas TV reported.
Indonesia’s Civil Society Network has condemned police for failing to ensure the safety of the Papuan students in East Java.
“The military must conduct an internal investigation on the possible involvement of soldiers in besieging the Papuan students’ boarding house in Surabaya, because it violated the law enforcement process and the authority of the military, according to the 2004 Law on the Indonesian Military,” the group said in a statement on Monday.
It also called on national human rights bodies to closely monitor the incident and the law-enforcement process.
The Setara Institute, a human rights advocacy group, said the incident involving the Papuan students was dehumanizing.
“The Setara Institute is against the dehumanization of the people of Papua, which occurs due to racism and stigmatization … the Setara Institute calls on National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian to take strong disciplinary action against members of the police who committed repressive acts [against the students],” Selma Theofany, a researcher at the Setara Institute, said in a statement.
BeritaSatu TV reported that a crowd of people attacked a boarding house occupied by Papuan students in Makassar, South Sulawesi, on Monday evening. Members of the crowd reportedly set several cars alight before police could disperse them.