West Papuan students demand to be recognized as Melanesians not Indonesians

August 21, 2018

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua’s Spokesperson Jacob Rumbiak released a statement and video showing hundreds of students at Cenderawasih University in West Papua refusing to register for school unless their Melanesian identity was recognized. In a show of solidarity, both Indonesian and Melanesian students banned together to wear Morning Star flag wristbands as they raised their fists to chant the words:

“We are not red and white (colors of the Indonesian flag)

We are the Morning Star! We are the Morning Star! (the Independence flag of West Papua)

Only now you claim we are red and white. Only now you claim we are red and white.”

Although occupied by Indonesia since the failed ‘Act of free choice’ in 1969, West Papuans do not have any ethnic, geographic, or cultural ties to Indonesia. The landmass that is now West Papua is located in Melanesia and its indigenous people are Melanesian.

This was not the first time Cenderawasih students have taken the opportunity to boldly defy Indonesian authority by publicly asserting strong support of West Papuan independence. The university has a long history of activism and violent clashes with police forces. 

During last year’s registration thousands of the university’s students erupted into chants and dances for Papuan solidarity. With an unprecedented display of passionate support for West Papuan independence they chanted the phrases “We are one” and “Papua Merdeka.”

In addition to the strong case against Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua, students also report that part of their public outcry is a direct push back against the ongoing violations of their human rights. Many of them relay stories of oppression such as police instructing them to remove Morning Star flags and replace them with the Indonesian flags. They have also been forced to remove all symbols of West Papuan independence from their clothing and been detained for refusing to comply. Dozens of student-leaders and lecturers have been arrested and incarcerated for inciting what is considered treasonous activity under Indonesian rule.

The right to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech is supposed to be guaranteed by Indonesia’s constitution. Although the Indonesian government violates their own founding principles by implementing laws against blasphemy and criticism of the government, international law ensures the right to free speech is still guaranteed under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states in article 19: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”