Students shot dead as West Papua protests continue

Lethal violence from the Indonesian military and security forces has generated an “unprecedented crisis” in West Papua, according to human rights lawyer Veronica Koman.

In late September, a new wave of demonstrations by Papuan high school students ended with Indonesian police firing on student protests in Wamena, killing 31 people.

Witnesses told The Guardian that the demonstration turned violent after police opened fire, saying, “The police shot at the Papuans. There were about 16 to 20 people who died directly on the street that I saw.”

Some reports put the number killed higher, but figures cannot be verified due to the Indonesian government’s shutting down of the internet, phone lines, and restriction of access to Wamena hospital where bodies were taken.

The crisis, sparked by racist attacks on West Papuan students in August, have been the catalyst for demonstrations involving many thousands of Papuans, on a scale not seen for several decades. Central to the mobilisations are calls for the end of the decades-long Indonesian occupation.

Nduga crisis

Indonesia’s military has launched concerted attacks in the Nduga regency in the highlands, resulting in the displacement of over 38,000 Papuans.

The crackdown began just after 1 December 2018. Across Indonesia more than 500 people were arrested for attending protests that day. The date marks the first raising of the Morning Star flag and the attempted declaration of independence, before Indonesian troops arrived in 1963.

Following the protest in Nduga, independence fighters and local villages killed a number of Indonesians constructing a road project. The West Papuans say these were military personnel.

In reprisal, the military bombed the area using white phosphorous, according to a report by John Martinkus and Mark Davis in The Saturday Paper. Military operations are still ongoing.

The Australian government has backed Indonesia, with Scott Morrison simply urging, “calm on all sides”.

Australia is also complicit in the atrocities, training Indonesian elite special forces Kopassus and Detachment 88, which have been used against West Papuans.

The Lombok Treaty, agreed by the Howard government in 2006, recognised Indonesia’s “territorial integrity”, cementing support for the Indonesian occupation. Labor’s Shadow Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, has likewise pledged that, “Labor fully respects the territorial integrity of Indonesia”.  Australian support for the repression must end. The struggle for self-determination and freedom in West Papua needs our solidarity.

By Jasmine Ali


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