Witnesses testify chaos at USTJ triggered by police tear gas

The public prosecutor shows Morning Star to the witness during the continued trial of treason case at Jayapura District Court, on Tuesday (23/5/2023). - Jubi/Theo Kelen

Jayapura, Jubi – On Tuesday, May 23, 2023, the Jayapura District Court continued the trial of three students accused of treason for taking part in a free speech which displayed the Morning Star flag, held at the Jayapura University of Science and Technology (USTJ) campus on November 10 last year. The defendants, Yoseph Ernesto Matuan, Devio Tekege, and Ambrosius Fransiskus Elopere, testified as witnesses and stated that the free speech turned chaotic after police fired tear gas into the campus area.

According to Elopere, the free speech took place from around 11 to 11:30 a.m. local time. He mentioned that eight students participated in the event, holding pamphlets and two Morning Star flags. The event was not planned but rather initiated spontaneously when they encountered each other on campus that day.

Elopere said that while the speakers were delivering their speeches, a group of police officers suddenly entered the USTJ Campus using two patrol cars. The police entered the campus while firing warning shots and immediately confiscated the pamphlets and flags.

“While we were speaking, the police got out of their cars and fired warning shots. The police dispersed the event, confiscated our pamphlets and Morning Star flags, and instructed us to get into their car. Our fellow students witnessed us being taken away and shouted to stop it there. Some of them approached and closed the campus fence,” Elopere recounted.

Elopere further mentioned that negotiations were taking place with the Heram Police chief at that time, wherein the students requested that the issue be resolved on campus rather than at the police station.

He said the Heram Police chief had allowed the students to read out a statement. “We had a polite conversation until they agreed to let us read the statement,” he said.

However, Elopere stated that the statement was ultimately not read out due to the occurrence of stone-throwing and the firing of tear gas from outside the campus gate. The sudden use of tear gas caused the students to immediately flee for their safety.

“The situation quickly turned chaotic. We immediately scattered. There were six people injured from being struck. I personally got hit by tear gas,” he explained.

Following the incident, Elopere and fourteen other students were apprehended and transported to the Jayapura City Police Headquarters.

Yoseph Ernesto Matuan also affirmed that the unrest ensued due to the intrusion of the police onto the campus. Matuan further revealed that the participants of the free speech were on the verge of presenting a statement in front of the Heram Police Chief when police started firing tear gas. Matuan added that some students who were recording the incident were also subjected to police brutality.

Matuan expressed his confusion regarding the motive behind using tear gas to disperse the gathering. He clarified that their intention was solely to engage in a free speech activity, rejecting the Jakarta-Papua dialogue facilitated by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), commemorating the passing of Theys Hiyo Eluay, a prominent figure in the Papuan Council Presidium, and urging the United Nations Security Council to visit Papua and witness the prevailing security conditions.

The refusal to engage in the dialogue initiated by Komnas HAM was because the Commission did not involve all parties affected by the armed conflict in Papua.

Matuan also said that the free speech had been notified to the Student Executive Board. He admitted to preparing pamphlets and the Morning Star flag but according to him, the Morning Star flag represents Papuan culture and is safeguarded and guaranteed under Law No. 21/2001 on Papua Special Autonomy.

Devio Tekege also recounted that the free speech held at the USTJ Campus on November 10, 2022, turned chaotic due to the police’s use of tear gas within the campus. As a result, he and his friends quickly sought refuge.

Tekege mentioned that he participated in the protest voluntarily. He explained that the students took turns holding pamphlets and Morning Star flags during the event.

Apart from rejecting the dialogue initiated by Komnas HAM, Tekege said that the students also proposed a referendum as a potential solution to Papua problems. This suggestion arose due to the unresolved cases of human rights violations in Papua, which, according to Tekege, have persisted without proper resolutions in the region. (*)

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