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Indonesia jails three over racism that sparked Papua violence

Sentences are too lenient in light of the deadly violence their actions caused, critics say

Indonesia jails three over racism that sparked Papua violence

A man looks at a burned-out Catholic school in Wamena in Indonesia’s Papua province following riots in September last year to protest against racial abuse aimed at Papuan students in Java. (Photo supplied) 

An Indonesian court has jailed three people for their part in racially abusing Papuan students in an incident that sparked riots in Papuan cities in which dozens of people were killed and many public buildings damaged.

East Java District Court on Feb. 3 sentenced Tri Susanti, a political activist, and Andrian Andriansah, a YouTuber, to seven and 10 months in jail respectively. Syamsul Arifin, a civil servant, was sentenced on Jan. 31 to five months in jail.

The three were part of a group who gathered outside a student dormitory in Surabaya in August last year and hurled abuse at 43 Papuan students following accusations that they had defaced an Indonesian flag and thrown it into a ditch.

Judge Yohanes Hehamony said Susanti was “guilty of circulating unproven, excessive or untrue allegations” when organizing the mob, which violated the country’s information and electronic transaction law.

Andriansah, he said, doctored an old 2016 video and uploaded it to his YouTube channel to falsely accuse the Papuan students of insulting the Indonesian flag to ignite public anger.

Arifin was proven to have committed acts of racism and hate speech which violated the 2008 law against racial and ethnic discrimination by calling the students “monkeys, pigs and dogs.”

Susanti said that what she did was an act of patriotism.

Their actions sparked widespread protests that lasted weeks in cities and districts in Papua and West Papua. At least 35 people were killed, while public buildings including schools were burned.

Papuan activists criticized the prison terms, saying the sentences were too lenient.

Marthen Goo from Papua Itu Kita, an advocacy group, said the punishment did not match with "the damage triggered by the defendants’ actions.” The light sentences showed that "racism is not only seen in their words but also in terms of law enforcement," he said.

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"The government continues to show different treatment towards us and other citizens. The law is sharp for us, while for others it is blunt,” he told UCA News.

Goo said dozens of Papuans are on trial for being involved in the anti-racism protests with the threat of a higher sentence, including seven activists whose legal proceedings were moved to Kalimantan Island despite protests from their families and lawyers.

Father James Kossay, a Papuan priest in Jayapura, said the sentences were supposed to be an important lesson for everyone to respect others.

“The question of whether the sentences are appropriate or not depends on the judge,” he told UCA News. “However, this case could be an important lesson, especially for non-Papuans, to respect each other.”

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