Indonesia protesters torch town hall in Papua over student detentions

Clay Curtis
August 22, 2019

Protests that erupted in the Indonesian province of West Papua over the weekend turned violent Monday when demonstrators set fire to a parliament building and local stores in anger against alleged harassment and police brutality committed against ethnic Papuan students.

The city streets have been swarmed by protesters chanting pro-independence slogans and waving the "Morning Star" flag, which has served as a symbol of West Papua's struggle for independence from Indonesia for decades.

Indonesian authorities were hunting for more than 250 inmates who escaped a Papua prison set ablaze during violent riots, as fresh protests broke out in the restive region.

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In Manokwari, videos posted to social media showed the parliament building on fire and roads blocked by burning tyres.

The spark for the latest anger appears to have been the detention of Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java, for allegedly bending a flagpole in front of a dormitory during the celebration of Indonesia's Independence Day on August 17, according to activists.

The raid was allegedly triggered by a misunderstanding after the Surabaya City Government's red and white flag fell in front of the dormitory. Frans Barung Mangera said no Papuan students had been arrested but that officers had escorted some to a nearby police station after a standoff with a group of angry residents.

A separate, peaceful protest of about 500 people was also underway in the town of Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, Papua police spokesman Ahmad Kamal said by phone.

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Governor of East Java, Khofifah Indar Parawansa, apologised for the behaviour of the mob, and said it "does not represent the voice of the people of East Java". "You may get angry but forgiving is better", Jokowi said. "That is not true, this is a hoax and I call on people in Papua and outside Papua not to be provoked by untrue news".

The Indonesian Armed Forces also sent three companies of troops to Manokwari and Sorong.

"The incidents in Surabaya and Malang were minor and were neutralized".

Instead of dispersing the crowd that was attacking the students, police surrounded the dormitory and asked Papuan students to turn themselves in. "Please believe that the government will maintain the honor and welfare of all people in Papua and West Papua".

"The national police chief ordered to transfer police personnel from other cities to West Papua as an intelligence estimation", police spokesman Inspector General Muhammad Iqbal told reporters in the capital Jakarta.

"Indonesia has been independent for 74 years, and intolerant, racist and discriminatory actions should not be allowed in this country", he said in a statement, "Racial acts in Surabaya have hurt us in Papua".

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