President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Tuesday promised to find jobs for 1,000 university graduates from Papua and West Papua provinces, among other pledges, as he met for the first time in Jakarta with Papuan leaders since anti-government protests left at least 13 dead and dozens behind bars.
But a West Papua rights activist said that many Papuan leaders had been arrested and the group of 61 leaders who sat down with Jokowi at the presidential palace did not adequately represent the aspirations expressed by Papuans in recent weeks. Activists are seeking a referendum on Jakarta’s rule over the impoverished but resource-rich region at that eastern end of Indonesia.
Anti-Jakarta protests ignited by alleged racism against Papuan students on Java island broke out on Aug. 19 in the country’s two easternmost provinces, with crowds torching government buildings and clashing with security forces. Authorities in Jakarta declared the death toll at five, but local officials and activists said at least 13 people, including a soldier, were killed during the outbreaks of violence.
During the meeting in Jakarta, Jokowi promised better treatment of Papuans, including providing jobs at state-owned enterprises. “I will force them [the companies] to hire Papuan fresh graduates, 1,000 of them initially,” Jokowi told the tribal leaders.
He also promised to award government posts across the country to native Papuans. “Without affirmative action, competition is very tough in all provinces,” he said.
In addition, Jokowi agreed to the Papuan leaders’ request to build a presidential palace in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province.
Abisai Rollo, leader of the Skouw tribe and speaker of the Papua House of Representatives, who was among those meeting with the president, urged Jokowi to show compassion to Papuan youths involved in the protests.
“They should not be punished, and instead be educated because they are the future of Indonesia,” Rollo told reporters. “We are opening our hearts and setting aside our differences to hold dialogue.”
Abisai said the president agreed to the delegation’s requests. “God wants Indonesia to pay more attention to Papua. If previously Papua was not fully embraced, it has to be fully embraced now,” he said.
Meanwhile, West Papua human rights activist Yan Christian Warinussy said those who met with Jokowi did not represent the real concerns of the community, according to the Tempo news site. He said the participants were chosen by the state intelligence agency and the security ministry, but no one from the National Committee for West Papua, a group behind a non-violent campaign seeking a referendum on regional self-determination, attended the meeting.
Calls for UN action
Indonesian authorities have accused the separatist umbrella group United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) and the pro-referendum National Committee of West Papua (KNPB) of orchestrating the anti-government protests in the Papua region. The ULMWP is led by Britain-based Papuan separatist leader Benny Wenda.
Police said the protests were intended to draw international attention ahead of a Sept. 9 meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council and to force the U.N. General Assembly to discuss the Papua issue when it convenes on Sept. 23 and 24.
On Monday, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said police had arrested what he described as an “intellectual actor,” who allegedly mobilized people to take to the streets to protest alleged racism against Papuan students in East Java province. The suspect, identified by initials FBK, was arrested on Friday at Jayapura airport.
Police have named 95 people as suspects involved in the protests, Dedi said, including a human rights lawyer, Veronica Koman, who has been accused of inciting Papuans through her “provocative” Twitter posts. Koman is believed to be overseas and police said they would enlist Interpol to locate and arrest her.
A coalition of human rights groups on Monday urged police to drop charges against her. “What Veronica did was in defense of human rights of Papuan students who were her clients,” said group spokesman Tigor Hutapea. “She was not spouting hate speech or spreading lies. What Veronica did was not a criminal offense,” he said.
National police: No evidence of IS involvement
Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Indonesian national police questioned a statement made last week to parliament by Indonesia’s defense minister, in which he alleged that an Islamic State-linked group was calling for jihad in Papua.
“There is a group affiliated with the Islamic State [operating] in Papua that has called for a jihad there,” Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told a hearing of a parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, security and intelligence – an apparent reference to the outlawed Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD). He did not say if members were involved in the recent violence and did not provide more details.
“The presence of JAD in Papua was detected about two years ago, but we are still looking into whether they were involved in the riots, because there’s no legal evidence,” Dedi told BenarNews.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), meanwhile, said that at least 10 Papuans were killed in the recent violence and urged the government to investigate.
“We consulted forensics experts and photos showed some of the wounds were consistent with those caused by live bullets,” Andreas Harsono, a HRW researcher in Indonesia, told BenarNews.
Andreas also urged police to release Papuan activists who have been detained.
“Arresting activists is wrong. What they did is simply raised [banned separatist] flags and shout ‘freedom,’ which is not a crime,” he said.
HRW said a video showed uniformed police shooting into a crowd of Papuan protesters inside the Deiyai Regency office on Aug. 28 and another showed civilians, police, and soldiers surrounding a Papuan student dormitory in the Abepura neighborhood in Jayapura.
Police have denied using live rounds to deal with Papuan protesters and said that another group of protesters had attacked security forces with arrows and spears during what had started as a peaceful protest in Deiyai.
On Aug. 1, one person was killed in clashes near the student dormitory in Abepura when police opened fire to separate two clashing groups, Jayapura deputy mayor Rustan Saru has said.
Tensions rose later in the month when migrants calling themselves Paguyuban Nusantara (the Archipelago Community) were involved in a stand-off with Papuans who had occupied the governor’s office and replaced the Indonesian flag with the separatist Morning Star banner.
Dedi said Paguyuban Nusantara consisted of coastal residents from different ethnic groups, including Papuans. He denied allegations that security forces backed them.
“We feared there would be clashes between different ethnic groups and we wanted to prevent that,” he said.
The Papua region, which makes up the Indonesian half of New Guinea island, was incorporated formally into Indonesia in 1969 following a U.N.-administered ballot known as the Act of Free Choice. Many Papuans and rights groups said the vote was a sham because it involved only 1,000 people.
The Free Papua Movement (OPM) launched a movement to establish an independent state for the region in 1965, three years after Dutch colonizers ceded sovereignty over the territory to Indonesia. OPM has been waging a low-level separatist insurgency against Jakarta’s rule.