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Indonesian police use force as protests flare in Papua

Protesters demand the release of pro-independence activist Victor Yeimo

Indonesian police use force as protests flare in Papua

Reverend Benny Giay (blue shirt) argues with police after being stopped from entering the Papuan provincial parliament on Aug. 16. (Photo: YouTube)

Indonesian police used force to disperse protesters in several cities in the Papua region on Aug. 16, reportedly shooting and injuring several of them.

According to the Papua Legal Aid Institute, the forced disbandment was carried out in several cities including Abepura, Waena, Yahukimo, Timika and provincial capital Jayapura, where protesters were demanding the release of pro-independence activist Victor Yeimo, who has been detained on charges of treason.

In Yahukimo, 29-year-old Ferianus Asso was shot in the stomach and taken to a local hospital, while at least two protesters suffered head injuries from being hit with rifle butts and rattan in Waena, institute director Emanual Gobay told UCA News.

Meanwhile, in Jayapura, the police intercepted Reverend Benny Giay, chairman of the Synod of the Kemah Injili Church, who came with his entourage to speak to the local parliament.

“They were not allowed to enter the parliament building even though they wanted to pray and convey peaceful aspirations. The police asked them to pray in the courtyard of the office in front of the police,” Gobay said.

Jayapura city police chief Gustav R. Urbinas said they had to act strictly because mass gatherings were banned to prevent the spread of Covid-19. He claimed that the forced dispersals were carried out because the protesters tried to resist officers.

He said the arrest of Rev. Giay was evidence that racism and suspicion continue, including against religious leaders in Papua

But rights activists blamed the use of police force on the ongoing discrimination and racism practiced against residents in the Christian-majority region where the decades-long movement for independence continues.

Gobay said mass demonstrations are permitted in other parts of Indonesia provided health protocols are followed. The protesters in Papua had stated their commitment to complying with protocols in a letter to the police on Aug. 13. However, the police still forbade them.

“This clearly shows that democracy is dead in Papua,” he said.

He said the arrest of Rev. Giay was evidence that racism and suspicion continue, including against religious leaders in Papua.

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Rev. Giay said the purpose of his visit was to pray that parliament members can play their role well in the midst of an increasingly uncertain situation in Papua.

“I want to convey my hope to them as a church leader,” he said.

He said the ambush he experienced showed that security forces were increasingly repressive.

“This must be a new paradigm of how the state and its apparatus see Papuans,” he said.

Last year the regional UN Human Rights Office expressed its concern about the violence and arrests that have taken place since 2018.

“We are disturbed by escalating violence over the past weeks and months in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua and the increased risk of renewed tension and violence,” it said.

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