2019 Papua protests

Last updated

2019 Papua protests
Part of the Papua conflict
Sarmi Protests Long March.jpg
Protesters marching in Sarmi Regency
Date19 August 2019 – ongoing
(4 weeks and 1 day)
Various cities and towns across Papua and West Papua provinces, smaller rallies across other Indonesian cities
Caused by
GoalsPapuan Independence
  • Internet in Papua shut down by Indonesian authorities
  • Indonesian government rejects calls for independence referendum
  • Protests continue despite government ban [1]
Parties to the civil conflict
Morning Star flag.svg Free Papua Movement
Papuan students
5 [2] –7 [3] dead
1 dead [4]

A series of protests by Papuans in Indonesia began on 19 August 2019. They mainly took place across Indonesian Papua, in response to the arrests of 43 Papuan students in Surabaya for alleged disrespect of the Indonesian flag.

Indonesia Republic in Southeast Asia

Indonesia, officially the Republic of Indonesia, is a country in Southeast Asia, between the Indian and Pacific oceans. It is the world's largest island country, with more than seventeen thousand islands, and at 1,904,569 square kilometres, the 14th largest by land area and 7th in the combined sea and land area. With over 261 million people, it is the world's 4th most populous country as well as the most populous Muslim-majority country. Java, the world's most populous island, is home to more than half of the country's population.

Surabaya City in Java, Indonesia

Surabaya is the capital of the Indonesian province of East Java and the second-largest city in the country, after Jakarta. The city has a population of over 3 million within its city limits and over 10 million in the Surabaya metropolitan area, making it the second-largest metropolitan area in Indonesia. Located on northeastern Java on the Madura Strait, it is one of the earliest port cities in Southeast Asia. According to the National Development Planning Agency, Surabaya is one of the four main central cities of Indonesia, alongside Jakarta, Medan, and Makassar.


In several locations, notably Jayapura, Sorong, Fakfak, Timika and Manokwari, protests turned violent, with various private buildings and public facilities damaged or burned. A Reuters reporter from its Jakarta bureau described the unrest as Papua's most serious in years. [5]

Jayapura City in Western New Guinea, Indonesia

Jayapura is the capital and largest city of the Indonesian province of Papua. It is situated on the island of New Guinea, on Yos Sudarso Bay. It covers an area of 935.92 km2 (361.36 sq mi), and borders Jayapura Regency to the west, Keerom Regency to the south, the nation of Papua New Guinea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the north. It is the most populous city in the Indonesian part of New Guinea with a population of 256,705 at the 2010 census; the latest official estimate is 315,872.

Sorong City in West Papua, Indonesia

Sorong is the largest city of the Indonesian province of West Papua. The city is located on the western tip of the island of New Guinea with its only land borders being with Sorong Regency. It is the gateway to Indonesia's Raja Ampat Islands, species rich coral reef islands in an area considered the heart of the world's coral reef biodiversity. It also is the logistics hub for Indonesia's thriving eastern oil and gas frontier. Sorong has experienced exponential growth since 2010, and further growth is anticipated as Sorong becomes linked by road to other frontier towns in Papua's Bird's Head Peninsula. The city had a population of 190,625 at the 2010 Census; the latest official estimate is 219,958. It is served by Dominique Edward Osok Airport.

Fakfak Town in West Papua, Indonesia

Fakfak is a town in Indonesia and seat of the Fakfak Regency. It had a population of 12,566 at the 2010 Census. It is served by Fakfak Airport. It is the only town in West Papua with a Muslim Indian and Arab Indonesian presence.


Map of Indonesian Papua, comprised by the present provinces of West Papua and Papua. LocationWestPapua.svg
Map of Indonesian Papua, comprised by the present provinces of West Papua and Papua.

As a successor state of the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia claimed all of the Dutch colonial territories in the Malay Archipelago, including Papua, formerly known as Netherlands New Guinea. Papua was formally annexed by Indonesia in 1969 following the controversial "Act of Free Choice". In the years that followed, a low-intensity insurgency has occurred across the region. After December 2018, tens of thousands of civilians around Nduga Regency were displaced following increased military presence and fighting with separatist fighters due to a massacre of workers constructing the Trans-Papua Highway. In an attempt to reduce tensions in the region, the Indonesian government granted increased autonomy to provinces comprising the region, with sitting president Joko Widodo (Jokowi) visiting the region six times since he was sworn into office in 2014. [6]

Succession of states is a theory and practice in international relations regarding successor states. A successor state is a sovereign state over a territory and populace that was previously under the sovereignty of another state. The theory has its root in 19th-century diplomacy. A successor state often acquires a new international legal personality, which is distinct from a continuing state, also known as a continuator, which despite change to its borders retains the same legal personality and possess all its existing rights and obligations.

Dutch East Indies Dutch colony between 1816-1949, present-day Indonesia

The Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony consisting of what is now Indonesia. It was formed from the nationalised colonies of the Dutch East India Company, which came under the administration of the Dutch government in 1800.

Dutch Empire Overseas territories controlled by the Dutch Republic and, later, the modern Netherlands from the 17th century to the mid-1950s

The Dutch colonial empire comprised the overseas territories and trading posts controlled and administered by Dutch chartered companies and subsequently by the Dutch Republic (1581–1795), and by the modern Kingdom of the Netherlands after 1815. It was initially a trade-based system which derived most of its influence from merchant enterprise and from Dutch control of international maritime shipping routes through strategically placed outposts, rather than from expansive territorial ventures. With a few notable exceptions, the majority of the Dutch colonial empire's overseas holdings consisted of coastal forts, factories, and port settlements with varying degrees of incorporation of their hinterlands and surrounding regions. Dutch chartered companies often dictated that their possessions be kept as confined as possible in order to avoid unnecessary expense, and while some such as the Dutch Cape Colony and Dutch East Indies expanded anyway, others remained undeveloped, isolated trading centres dependent on an indigenous host-nation. This reflected the primary purpose of the Dutch colonial empire: commercial exchange as opposed to sovereignty over homogeneous landmasses.



15 August rallies

On 15 August 2019, the anniversary of the 1962 New York Agreement and coinciding with a discussion on Papua in the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, [7] [8] protests by Papuans were held across several cities in Indonesia, including Jayapura, Sentani, Ternate, Ambon, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Jakarta, and Malang. [9] Various Papuan student groups joined the protests, which proceeded peacefully in Yogyakarta and Jakarta but saw dispersal by authorities and several protesters arrested in other cities, though they were released soon afterwards. In Bandung, civil militias forced the protesters to change the rally's location. [10] In the city of Malang, Papuan protesters clashed with counter-protesters and later fans of the football club Arema Malang, with racist slurs from the counter-protesters. Five protesters were reported to be "heavily injured" and virtually all protesters were injured in some way. [11] [12]

New York Agreement

The New York Agreement is an agreement signed by the Netherlands and Indonesia regarding the administration of the territory of West New Guinea. The first part of the agreement proposes that the United Nations assume administration of the territory, and a second part proposes a set of social conditions that will be provided if the United Nations exercises a discretion proposed in article 12 of the agreement to allow Indonesian occupation and administration of the territory. Negotiated during meetings hosted by the United States, the agreement was signed on 15 August 1962 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

Pacific Islands Forum intergovernmental organization

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is an inter-governmental organization that aims to enhance cooperation between countries and territories of the Pacific Ocean. It was founded in 1971 as the South Pacific Forum (SPF), and changed its name in 1999 to "Pacific Islands Forum", so as to be more inclusive of the Forum's Oceania-spanning membership of both north and south Pacific island countries, including Australia. It is an United Nations General Assembly observer.

Tuvalu Country in Oceania

Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a Polynesian island country located in the Pacific Ocean, situated in Oceania, about midway between Hawaii and Australia. It lies east-northeast of the Santa Cruz Islands, southeast of Nauru, south of Kiribati, west of Tokelau, northwest of Samoa and Wallis and Futuna, and north of Fiji. It comprises three reef islands and six true atolls spread out between the latitude of 5° to 10° south and longitude of 176° to 180°, west of the International Date Line. Tuvalu has a population of 10,640. The total land area of the islands of Tuvalu is 26 square kilometres (10 sq mi).

16 August Incident

On 16 August 2019, around the celebrations of the Independence of Indonesia, forty-three Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java were arrested by police following reports that an Indonesian flag was damaged outside the building they lived in. [13] According to police accounts, the building where the students stayed was stormed by police as a crowd was gathering outside the building preparing to assault it. [14] Civil militias from the Islamic Defenders Front and the Pancasila Youth were reported to be present at the location and had attacked the students verbally and physically. [15] Allegedly, the mob had yelled "Monkeys, get out" at the students. [16]

East Java Province in Indonesia

East Java is a province of Indonesia. It has a land border only with the province of Central Java to the west; the Java Sea and the Indian Ocean border its northern and southern coasts, respectively, while the narrow Bali Strait to the east separates Java from Bali.

Islamic Defenders Front organization

The Islamic Defenders Front, is an Indonesian Islamist political organization formed in 1998. It was founded by Muhammad Rizieq Shihab with backing from Indonesian military, police generals and political elites. The organization's leader is Ahmad Shabri Lubis, who was inaugurated in 2015, and Rizieq Shihab remains acting as the adviser with the title Great Imam of the FPI for life.

The Pancasila Youth is an Indonesian far right paramilitary organization established by General Abdul Haris Nasution on 28 October 1959 as the youth wing of the League of Supporters of Indonesian Independence. It has been headed since 1981 by Yapto Soerjosoemarno and was one of the semi-official political gangster (preman) groups that supported the New Order military dictatorship of Suharto. The name refers to Pancasila, the official "five principles" of the Indonesian state. Pancasila Youth played an important role in supporting Suharto's military coup in 1965: they ran death squads for the Indonesian army, killing a million or more alleged communists and Chinese Indonesians across the province of North Sumatra, as described in the 2012 documentary The Act of Killing.

Protests grow

On 19 August, a crowd of what was estimated by an AFP reporter to be "several thousand" began protesting in Manokwari, the capital of West Papua province. The protest turned into a riot which resulted in the local parliament building being torched. According to Indonesian officials, three police officers were injured by rock-throwing protesters. [17] Aside from public facilities, some private property were also torched. [18] Some of the protesters were carrying the Morning Star flag - the old flag of Netherlands New Guinea used by the West Papuan separatist movement - while crying out pro-independence slogans. [14] In Indonesia, the action is punishable by up to 15 years of prison. [19] West Papua's vice governor Mohamad Lakotani  [ id ] remarked that the city's economy was completely paralyzed by the protests. [20] According to a spokesman from the National Committee for West Papua, a female protester was shot in the ankle during the protests at Manokwari. Indonesian Armed Forces told media that 300 soldiers were deployed to Manokwari on 21 August, [21] with an overall count of 1,200 security personnel across the week. [5]

Agence France-Presse international news agency headquartered in Paris

Agence France-Presse (AFP) is an international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Agence Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

Manokwari Provincial and regency capital in Western New Guinea, Indonesia

Manokwari is a non-autonomous town in Indonesia and the capital of the province of West Papua, at the western end of New Guinea. The town has many resorts and is a major tourist area. It is one of the seats of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manokwari–Sorong. It is also the administrative seat of Manokwari Regency. The town is also included of the Manokwari-Northeastern Bird's Head Peninsula MSA. It is also a major port, financial center, and tourist area that is important to West Papua and Eastern Indonesia.

West Papua (province) Province in Indonesia

West Papua is a province of Indonesia. It covers the two western peninsulas of the island of New Guinea, Bird's Head Peninsula and Bomberai Peninsula, along with nearby islands. The province is bordered to the north by the Pacific Ocean, to the west by the Halmahera Sea and the Ceram Sea, to the south by the Banda Sea, and to the east by the province of Papua and the Cenderawasih Bay. Manokwari is the province's capital, while Sorong is its largest city. West Papua is the least populous province in Indonesia, with a population of 760,422 according to the 2010 census by Statistics Indonesia. The province is predominantly Christian.

Jayapura, the region's largest city and the provincial capital of Papua, saw hundreds of protesters who forcefully took down the Indonesian flag in front of governor Lukas Enembe's office. [19] Protesters also blocked the road to the city's Sentani Airport. [22]

In the city of Sorong, protests also occurred with reported gunshots. [23] In response to the "monkey" slur in Surabaya, some of the protesters dressed as monkeys. [16] A mob invaded the Domine Eduard Osok Airport and threw rocks at the airport's glass windows, damaging the terminal building. [24] The attack also temporarily disrupted the airport's operations. [25] Aside from the airport, the city's prison was also torched, resulting in the escape of 258 convicts and injuring some prison guards, [26] though on 23 August a prison official noted that most of the escaped prisoners simply were attempting to escape the fire and check for their families, and that most of the escapees have returned to prison. [27]

Around 4,000-5,000 protesters rallied in the mining town of Timika, which saw the damaging of a hotel near the local parliament of the Mimika Regency. Further clashes between protesters and police occurred in front of the parliament building, as police dispersed a crowd waiting for Mimika's regent Eltinus Omaleng. Dozens were eventually arrested, charged with damaging of the hotel or coercing a local car repair shop to provide tires for a tire fire. 3 policemen were reported to be injured. [28] [29] [30]

Thousands of protesters also rallied in the town of Fakfak on 21 August, which saw a local market and office building torched and protesters blocking roads to the Fakfak Torea Airport. Police also fired tear gas on the protesters to disperse the crowds. According to an Indonesian police spokesman, the situation was "contained" and only around 50 people were involved in the torching of the market building. Several people were injured in the protests and clashes. [31] [32]

Rallies were also held in the towns of Merauke, Nabire, Yahukimo and Biak. [21] [23] [33]

Internet blackout

Papuan students in Jakarta also held a rally in front of the Ministry of Home Affairs on 22 August. [34] On the same day, the Indonesian government announced a total internet blackout in both regions of Papua. [35]

More peaceful protests continued, with a peaceful "long march" in Sarmi Regency on 23 August [36] and a pro-independence rally in Semarang the following day. [37] Other rallies protesting the racism were also held in Yogyakarta, [38] Bandung [39] and Denpasar, [40] among others. Some activists noted that the protests were the largest to happen in the region for years. [41]

Protests continued on 26 August, with the West Papuan flag being flown by peaceful protesters in Deiyai Regency numbering 5,000 according to organizers, alongside simultaneous rallies in the Papuan towns of Wamena, Paniai, Yahukimo, and Dogiyai in addition to off-Papua cities such as Makassar. [42] The protest later grew to over 7,000 participants. [43]

On 28 August, protesters in Deiyai demanded Deiyai's regent sign a petition demanding an independence referendum, but according to official accounts a large mob attacked officers guarding the location, and in the ensuing clashes one Indonesian Army sergeant was killed and some officers injured. There were also reports of civilian casualties - according to the Indonesian National Police, two civilians were killed [44] while local media Suara Papua reported six fatalities. [4] [45] Local human rights activists reported seven civilian deaths. [3] The police later stated that five protesters were killed following an attempt to seize police weapons. [2]

Escalation of violence

On 29 August, protesters reportedly charged and torched several government buildings and a shopping center. The Indonesian police reacted by firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the demonstrators. [46]

On the morning of 30 August, continued violent protests resulted in the General Elections Commission branch in Jayapura to be torched, burning documents of local representatives elected in the 2019 election. Protesters had also torched buildings and cars the previous day in the city, [5] [47] breaking into a prison in Abepura district. [48] That night, a further 1,250 security personnel were deployed to Jayapura. [5]

On the same day, pro-independence protesters occupied the provincial governor's buildings. The protests spread outside the regions of Papua and West Papua, with pro-papuan independence protests even being held in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. [49] [50]


Soldiers and militias open fire on demonstrators

On 1 September, three Papuan students had reportedly been shot in their university dormitories by pro-government militia groups. Footage emerged of Indonesian soldiers firing live rounds into nonviolent protesting crowds during the previous week, killing 6-8 demonstrators. [51] [52] Indonesian police arrested dozens of demonstrators involved in the protests. Indonesian authorities allege the arrested demonstrators had taken part in the torching of government buildings on 29 August. [53] A young Papuan man was reportedly killed after Indonesian police arrived to disperse a demonstration in Abepura. [54]

Ban on protests

On 2 September, the Indonesian government flew an additional 6,000 police and military servicemen into Papua amidst the internet blackout. Indonesian authorities banned what they deemed were "violent protests" and warned that any person caught "supporting separatism" or "expressing separatist opinions" in public would be arrested and charged with treason. [1] Indonesian immigration authorities announced that four Australian nationals that had allegedly taken part in pro-independence demonstrations would be deported from the country. [55] [56]

On the same day, the Indonesian government announced that access to the regions of Papua and West Papua to foreign nationals would be restricted. [57] Indonesian police blocked a pro-independence march on Manokwari. [58]

On Wednesday, 4 September, Indonesian police chief Luki Hermawan accused human rights lawyer Veronica Koman of sparking the Papua protests by using her Twitter account to spread information about the arrest of 43 Papuan students in East Java, stating that "she was very active in spreading provocative news." [59] Indonesia's national police chief vowed to find and arrest suspected activists, and stated that the police "will chase them ... we already know who they are." [60]

The United Nations Human Rights Office issued a statement condemning the violence in Papua, calling on Indonesian authorities to restrain nationalist militias targeting protesters and prevent the ongoing by that point intimidation of journalists, human rights defenders and students. The office also called for official dialogue between the Indonesian government and the people of Papua. [61]

On 5 September, the Indonesian government partially lifted the internet blackout that it had imposed on the region, while warning that it could abruptly reinstate it any point, if it deems that the situation had "worsened". [62] [63]


Responding to the protests, the Indonesian Ministry of Communication and Information Technology implemented an internet shutdown around Sorong, in a move that was stated to be one to combat disinformation, [16] later expanded to cover the entire region. [5] The ministry also reported to have shut down social media accounts which "shared provocative content". [28] The internet shutdown resulted in another protest against the ministry in Jakarta by rights organisations. [64]

In the night of 19 August, President Joko Widodo released a statement urging calm and noted to the Papuans that "it's OK to be emotional, but it's better to be forgiving. Patience is also better.". [65] Joko Widodo also prepared a visit to the region. [16] Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Wiranto also released a statement which promised a "complete and fair" investigation into the incident in Surabaya and added that the situation in Papua was under control. [65] Wiranto further claimed that a "certain party" was benefitting from the chaotic situation. [5] also stated that he had instructed security forces to avoid repressive measures and not use regular ammunition, and rejected the possibility of a referendum. [48] National Police chief Tito Karnavian claimed that the riots had been caused by, aside from the incident in Surabaya and treatment of the involved students, a hoax about one of the students being killed during their detention. [65]

Deputy Speaker of the People's Representative Council Fadli Zon called for an investigation into parties responsible for the racism incident in Surabaya. [66] East Java's regional police formed a team to investigate the accusations. [67] Bishop of Amboina Petrus Canisius Mandagi  [ id ] called for peaceful protests and remarked that Papuans "should not be savage like those who spout racism". [68] Indonesian Senator from Papua Yorrys Raweyai  [ id ] called for the disbandment of Nahdlatul Ulama's Banser, claiming that the militia's disbandment was a demand from the protesters at Sorong. [69] Papua governor Lukas Enembe visited the Papuan students' building in Surabaya on 27 August but he was turned away by the students, who had been rejecting all visitors such as Surabaya's mayor Tri Rismaharini. [70] [71]

Tri Susanti, a Gerindra member and a leader of the Surabaya protests against the Papuan students, publicly apologized following the protests across Papua and denied accusations of physical violence against the students. [72]

West Papuan independence figure Benny Wenda commented that the incident in Surabaya had "lit the bonfire of nearly 60 years of racism, discrimination and torture of the people of West Papua by Indonesia". [41] A spokesperson for the West Papua Liberation Army (a pro-independence armed group) stated that the group had not participated in the protests. [48]


Following the protests, dozens of people were arrested under various charges. In Jayapura alone, police reported arresting 28 suspects under charges of looting and damaging buildings, among others. Two students in Jakarta who allegedly flew the West Papuan flag were arrested under charges of treason. [73]

Four Australian citizens were deported from Sorong by Indonesian authorities after having found to take part in the protests. [74] On 9 September, police arrested 18 people from the student dormitory of Cenderawasih University in Jayapura. [75]

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