Tapol report on first anniversary of West Papua uprising

August 19, 2020

Press release from human rights NGO Tapol

Today marks the first anniversary of the West Papua Uprising. The Uprising swept across 22 towns in West Papua, 17 cities in Indonesia, and 3 cities overseas during the period of 19 August to 30 September 2019. 

The trigger of the Uprising was the racist persecution of West Papuan students in the Indonesian cities of Malang on 15 August, in Surabaya on 16 and 17 August, and in Semarang on 18 August 2019. The most significant of these incidents was, however, the incidents in Surabaya where Indonesian soldiers shouted ‘monkey’ repeatedly at the students, a word which was later reclaimed by West Papuans who used it during protests. Indeed, the focus of the Uprising later in West Papua was largely concerned with condemning racism and prosecuting the racist perpetrators in Java, but also holding an independence referendum.

At least an extra 6,500 police and military personnel were deployed to crush the Uprising. The civilian death toll during its duration period reached 61 people, of whom 35 were indigenous West Papuans. Of those 35 people who died, 30 had sustained bullet wounds, suggesting that they were killed by the Indonesian security forces. Five other deaths were from stab wounds inflicted by civil militias. 

At least 287 civilians were known to be injured as a result of violence during the Uprising. The actual number will be higher because many West Papuans were reported to have avoided going to hospital. Many would-be West Papuan patients were deterred from attending hospital to seek treatment, due to security forces’ tactics of surrounding hospitals after each incident and suffered trauma and fear of reprisals. Three deaths from shootings in Deiyai on 28 August could have been prevented if those victims had obtained medical help. Fourteen patients in Deiyai were taken into police custody while still being treated in hospital, further confirming fears of West Papuans. Similar cases took place in Wamena.

In total, at least 22,800 civilians were displaced during the period of the Uprising. Following shootings that killed eight civilians in Deiyai on 28 August 2019, about 300 people were displaced. A further 11,000 people were displaced as a result of horizontal conflict between local communities in Wamena; and 4,000 in Jayapura. Around 6,000 West Papuan students in Java and elsewhere returned to their homeland. A fresh operation which took place in Puncak Regency during the Uprising displaced 1,500 civilians.

During the Uprising, there were 13 cases of attacks against press freedom including internet shutdown, and 23 cases of attacks against human rights defenders including one case of physical attack and nine cases of judicial harassment. The internet shutdown was ruled as unlawful by the state administrative court in Jakarta in June 2020.

In response to the harsh crackdown and escalating violence, the UN Human Rights Office put out two statements of concern and sent two formal communications to the Indonesian Government. Indonesia denied all allegations. 

A total of 1,013 arrests resulting in 133 number of political prisoners took place during this period. Of those cases, 22 were charged with treason Their sentences ranged from 6 months to 10 years.

In comparison, five soldiers who racially abused the West Papuan students in Surabaya were only temporarily suspended. Only one of them was ever tried in a military court. Sergeant Two Unang Rohana was found guilty of disobeying orders, not hate speech, and was sentenced to two months’ probation, meaning he did not go to jail. Not a single police officer was ever punished for the disproportionate measures taken against the students.

Five Indonesians were prosecuted for attacking West Papuans. Three racist perpetrators in Surabaya were sentenced to five, seven, and ten months imprisonment. Two of them were found guilty of broadcasting hoaxes; only one was found guilty of hate speech. Two other Indonesians in Jayapura were sentenced to only eight months and three years in jail for stabbing a West Papuan to death.

Today, a year later, 11 political prisoners from the Uprising remain behind bars. Those found guilty of treason, however, are all free, having served their full sentences and have resumed their political activities. Alexander Gobai, one of the high-profile ‘Balikpapan Seven’ political prisoners, has resumed his position as head of the student body at his university in Jayapura. At least 2,000 West Papuan ‘exodus’ students remain in West Papua, waiting to be facilitated to study inside West Papua or in the Pacific region. A teenager disemboweled during an attack in Fakfak still has problems defecating despite a number of operations. None of the human rights violations during the Uprising have been properly investigated. The Indonesian Government has not dropped charges and is still pursuing financial punishment against human rights lawyer Veronica Koman.

A report detailing each incident and political prisoners will be published at the end of August.