Nationalist mass organisations attack Papuan student dormitory in Surabaya to force raising of Indonesian flag

The Papuan Student Alliance AMP has reported a further attack on the Papuan student dormitory in Surabaya, East Java Province. On 15 August 2018 at 11.30 am, approximately 30 members from multiple nationalist mass organisations (ORMAS) came to the Papuan student dormitory in Tampaksari District of Surabaya. At 12.30, a group of students asked a representative of the mass organisations to enter the dormitory and discuss the purpose of the visit. According to the head of the ORMAS groups, Basuki Rahmad, the group intended to raise the Indonesian flag in the dormitory front yard in preparation for the commemoration of the Indonesian Independence Day on 17 August. Subsequently, at least ten ORMAS members forced their way into the dormitory yard while the students were still talking with Mr. Rahmad.

As the Papuan studeDorm 2nts asked them leave and wait outside the dormitory premises, three ORMAS members approched one of the Papuan students and punched him. In an attempt to defend himself, the student ran to the nearby kitchen and picked up a machete, whichupon the ORMAS members rushed to the exit gate. According to the Papuan students one of the ORMAS members fell down and injured his hand during the fall. Later, Basuki Rahmad claimed in interviews with  several media outlets that the injury was caused by a knife during a knife attack by the Papuan students.

After the incident, the ORMAS supporters attacked the Papuan students, throwing stones and glas bolltels at them, while damaging parts of the dormitory fence (see intro image). According to the Papuan students, the events were witnessed by two police officers, who watched the assaults on the papua students without making any attempt to prevent the mob attack. The students raised the Indonesian flag on in the afternoon of 15 August 2018, as they had initially planned prior to the incident.

At 7.00 pm, dozens of police officers began to secure the area around the Papuan student dormitory. At 9.00 pm, more than twenty police officers entered the dormitory without showing a warrant (see image on top left). The officers wanted to arrest the suspect who had committed the alleged knife attack. When, they were not able to find the suspect, the officers arbitrarily arrested all 49 dormitory residents. The Papuan students had to enter a police truck which brought them to the Surabaya District Police Station (POLRESTABES Surabaya), where they were interrgogated. One of the students shared a audio recording, according to which police officers forced students to testify. Some students were alllegedly subjected to excessive use of force during the arrest. It is currently not clear whether charges have been raised against students.


Discrimination, intimidation and surveilllance of Papuan students in other pasrt of Indonesia are common. The cases are emblematic for the continuing pattern of discrimination, surveillance and  limitation of basic freedoms and rights that indigenous Papuans face in Indonesia.

Approximately one month earlier, on 6 July 2018, more than 100 security force officers, some of them fully equipped with automatic rifles together with members of nationalist mass organisations and the head of Tambaksari sub-district, Mr. Ridwan Mubarun, had come to the Papuan student dormitory to unlawfully disperse a peaceful assembly, which the students organised to commemorate the 20. anniversary of the ‘Biak Massacre’. As the students and a lawyer from the Surabaya Legal Aid Institute (LBH Surabaya) requested the warrant, a heated argument followed. Police officers forcefully dragged several students away from the crowd. According to information from LBH Surabaya, a female student was sexually harassed during the police operation.

A similar case had already occurred six days earlier on 1 July 2018 in the Javanese city Malang. Papuan students had organised a political discussion to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the West Papuan State proclamation on 1 July 1971. Around 7.30 pm, joint security personnel accompanied by intelligence officers entered the premises without showing a warrant and forced the participants to leave. A crowd of supporters from nationalist mass movements ill-treated and insulted the Papuan students, making racist comments. Some supporters entered and smashed the premises. Police officers witnessing the ill-treatments failed to protect the students from the mob attack. During the incident, at least seven Papuan students sustained injuries as a result of the ill-treatments.

Papuans Behind Bars (PBB) has published a report on the systematic harassment and intimidation against Papuan students in Indonesia between September and December 2017. The report documents police and military intimidation of Papuan students and civil society groups outside of West Papua. Student movements like the 'Papuan Student Alliance' (AMP) and other Papuan civil society groups reported multiple cases in which Papuan students became victims of ill-treatment, arbitrary arrest and intimidated. The PBB report views the cases as part of a trend of civil and political rights violations, limiting freedom of expression and assembly of indigenous Papuans. Throughout the past four years, police, military and nationalist para-military groups have prevented Papuan students outside of West Papua from exercising their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.