Deterioration of freedom of expression: Activists raise concerns over repression and arrests of Papuans

A protest against the division of Papua Province and the establishment of a New Autonomous Region in Jayapura City in 2022, shortly before it was dispersed by police. - Jubi/Theo Kelen

Jayapura, Jubi – In a recent online discussion on “Status and Trends of Freedom of Expression, Assembly, and Digital Rights in West Papua”, Esther Haluk, a women’s rights activist from GARDA Papua, expressed her concerns about the declining state of freedom of speech in Papua. She noted that there was a growing sense of fear among Papuans who wished to openly voice their opinions due to the government’s response.

Haluk pointed out that the deterioration of freedom of expression in Papua could be traced back to 2019 when large-scale protests erupted in response to instances of racism. She further mentioned that individuals from the Papuan community who participated in these protests were subsequently arrested and imprisoned.

“Some Indonesian people call us monkeys but when we fight against it, we are arrested. We are victims,” Haluk said during the discussion organized by SAFEnet and TAPOL on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

According to Haluk, whenever Papuans exercise their freedom of expression to voice the truth, they are consistently met with opposition from the military and police forces. Haluk shared that she personally experienced being arrested for participating in a peaceful protest in May 2022. However, at the police station she was questioned about her social media posts instead.

“So at that time we were taken to the police station not because of the protest but rather due to our social media posts. My Facebook account was hacked three times after I posted some comments on the news,” Haluk explained.

Haluk further emphasized that the policies implemented by the Indonesian government do not align with the wishes of the Papuan people, particularly in relation to the expansion of Papua Province through the establishment of new provinces. However, when Papuans protested against the policy, they were arrested.

“We refuse to accept the policies enforced in Papua because they do not positively impact our lives. We are witnessing ecological destruction that poses a threat to our existence, as well as issues of land appropriation. It is our fundamental right to express ourselves and engage in peaceful protests, yet the government responds by deploying a significant number of military and police personnel to suppress Papuan voices,” Haluk asserted.

freedom of expression
An online discussion entitled “Conditions and Trends of Freedom of Expression, Assembly, and Digital Rights in West Papua” organized by SAFEnet and TAPOL, on Tuesday (16/5/2023). – Zoom Screenshot

She further expressed her view that Indonesia, being a democratic nation, should uphold and honor the freedom of expression of Papuans. In Haluk’s perspective, the way the Indonesian government treats Papuans indicates that Papuans are not viewed as a part of Indonesia.

“We intended to conduct a peaceful protest, so why did the government resort to sending in the police and military to forcibly disperse us? We were simply exercising our rights, so why the use of such excessive force by the military and police? Based on our experiences as Papuans, it feels as though our rights hold no significance and are not acknowledged within Indonesia,” Haluk stated.

Also speaking in the online forum, Ian Moore of the political resistance campaign TAPOL revealed there were 21 instances of arbitrary dispersals that took place in 2022 according to the Tapol West Papua 2022 report “Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly”.

Moore highlighted that most of the incidents occurred in Papua Province, particularly in Jayapura. However, similar incidents were also reported in other parts of West Papua, especially in Sorong, and Central Papua.

Moore further stated that various police units were involved in the dispersal of peaceful demonstrations in Papua, ranging from standard units to special task forces such as the Nemangkawi Task Force, the Mobile Brigade Corps, and police intelligence agencies

Meanwhile, Made Supriatma, a researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said the State continued to oppress Papuans by deploying military forces to deal with their protests. This response, Supriatma added, was excessively brutal and amounts to repression against Papuans.

Supriatma noted that various protests by Papuans indicate a growing sense of nationalism, particularly among the youth in Papua. Therefore, the Indonesian government should engage in dialogue with Papuans to address their concerns and listen to their demands.

“Papua has a strong movement, and young Papuans are eager to voice their opinions and participate in protests, even in the face of military repression,” Supriatma said. (*)

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