Episode 75: Unpacking the Recent West Papua Protests

This episode is about an ongoing news story — we recorded the episode on Monday, August 19th.

In this episode, we discuss the recent protests that broke out in Manokwari and Jayapura (the two largest cities in West Papua) over the recent arrest and detention of 43 West Papuan students in Surabaya over allegations of destroying and damaging the Indonesian flag. The incident first began with stories of the Indonesian flag being broken apart and thrown into the sewer by West Papuan students circulating within various WhatsApp groups, which led to mass demonstrations outside a West Papuan student dormitory in Surabaya. Many of the people who demonstrated shouted racial slurs and monkey chants at the student. The next day, police decided to use tear gas and raided the dormitory, arresting 43 students and interrogating them for 9 hours before releasing them. Following this news and claims of racial abuse under the hands of the police, hundreds of people protested in Manokwari, leading to the burning of the local parliament building and destruction of property. We want to unpack the historic tensions and conflicts that has led to this point in West Papua’s complicated relationship with the rest of Indonesia.

We begin with the historic tussle in the 1950’s and 60’s over West Papua — one of the most fertile and resource-rich regions of Indonesia — between the Dutch and the new Republic of Indonesia. The tension between the two governments escalated to military confrontations, before both parties negotiated a peace agreement called the New York Agreement in 1962. This agreement gave Indonesia West Papua, but also demanded a vote to be held that will ask the West Papuans to decide if they wanted to be a part of the new Republic. This referendum, known as the infamous “Act of Free Choice,” was held on August 2, 1969, and over 1,000 men and women selected by the Indonesian military unanimously voted to join Indonesia. Many politicians, journalists, and historians acknowledged that the referendum was unfairly executed and held under immense pressure from the Indonesian military, with threats of violence and repercussion forcing those chosen to vote in favor of Indonesia. To this day, various independence movements and NGOs have advocated for a new referendum that will allow West Papuans a truly fair and just vote, much to the displeasure of the Indonesian government. All of this contributes to the tension that underpin West Papua’s complicated relationship with Indonesia.

While this story continues to break and develop, we want to urge our listeners and fellow Indonesians to address our own prejudices against West Papuans, especially since the initial incident was sparked by a hoax story circulated in social media. We have a lot of work to do to reconcile the historically unjust and unfair treatment of West Papuans in order to even begin considering a future solution, and it is our responsibility as Indonesians to ensure that the promises of our nation truly includes everyone from Sabang to Merauke.

Thanks for listening!

For those interested in learning more about the topic, we’ve provided links to resources as well as other recommended readings.
Indonesia deploys troops to West Papua as protests spread — courtesy of Al-Jazeera
Riot in Manokwari Allegedly Triggered by Hoax News: Police — courtesy of Tempo
Indonesia arrests dozens of West Papuans over claim flag was thrown in sewer — courtesy of the Guardian
West Papuan students barricaded, detained and tear-gassed by police on Indonesian ‘freedom’ day — courtesy of ABC News
Asrama Papua di Surabaya Digeruduk Massa Beratribut FPI — reports of racist chants outside the West Papuan student dormitory, courtesy of CNN Indonesia
Riots in West Papua: why Indonesia needs to answer for its broken promises — courtesy of the Conversation
Memahami akar masalah Papua dan penyelesaiannya: jangan gegabah — understanding the complex roots of the Papua conflict, courtesy of the Conversation Indonesia
West Papua’s Quest for Independence — courtesy of the Diplomat
Cara hentikan konflik di Papua: Stop kekerasan — advocating for a non-violent approach to resolving the conflict in Papua, courtesy of the Conversation Indonesia
Episode 31: National Unity At What Cost? Remembering East Timor — our episode about East Timor, which features a discussion on the idea of “NKRI Harga Mati”
Agnez Mo Dibilang Melakukan Cultural Appropriation, Apa Sebabnya? — Agnes Monica’s problematic cultural appropriation of West Papuan identity