Outbreaks of violence in Wamena and Jayapura – first counts estimate 31 civilian fatalities, 87 persons injured

Papuan human rights activists and Indonesian media sources have reported two further outbreaks of violence in the cities of Wamena and Jayapura on 23 September 2019. They seem to be related to ongoing protests against racial discrimination of indigenous Papuans in Indonesia. According to the Head of the Papuan Regional Police Public Relations Desk, AM Kamal, 28 civilians have died and 77 others were injured during the riots in Wamena, Jayawijaya Regency. In Jayapura city, a security force crackdown on Papuan students resulted in the death of three protesters and injuries among ten students. One military member was killed during the operation.

According to information received, the protests in Wamena occurred after a teacher of PGRI senior high school in Wamena addressed a Papuan pupil as ‘child of a monkey’ on 20 September 2019. Over the weekend, the information about the incident quickly spread among students in Wamena. On 23 September 2019, around 8.30 am, the students gathered in front of the Jayawijaya regent’s office and the Jayawijaya district police station to protest against the teacher’s racist slur. The chief of the Papua Regional Police, Rudolf A. Rodja, dismissed the racism allegations as hoax news. He claimed that a mass brawl between students from different schools led to the outbreak of violence in Wamena.

Wamena Riots 4Joint security forces forcefully dispersed the protest using tear gas and life ammunition. The protesters allegedly threw stones and set parts of the regent’s office, the local electricity power plant as well as multiple shops and houses on fire. The riots reportedly lasted for four hours. Among the killed and injured victims were indigenous Papuans (see image on the right) and migrants from other parts of Indonesia, which confirms statements that the protest was triggered by a racist slur.

Many residents sought shelter at the local military base, the district police station and various churches. At 12.30 pm, the Ministry for Communication and Informatics imposed an information stop in Wamena, shutting down all internet services. The airport has been temporarily closed until the situation in Wamena calms down.

On 24 September 2019, human rights defenders expressed concerns over further outbreaks of violence in Wamena and called for an immediate humanitarian intervention. They claim that armed migrants backed-up by security force members are patrolling through Wamena. Indigenous Papuans fear attacks by civil militias, while many Non-Papuans have been evacuated from Wamena due to the potential risk of further riots and outbreaks of inter-ethnic violence. The internet shutdown has amplified their fear of being attacked and impedes further investigations.

Student Assembly Auditorium UncenThe riot in Jayapura began with a peaceful assembly in front of the Cenderawash University Auditorium in Abepura around 6.00 am (see image on the left). The majority of protesters were Papuan students who study in other parts of Indonesia. They have returned to West Papua since racist-motivated notions, intimidation and assaults against Papuan students in the cities of Malang, Surabaya, Semarang and Makassar have significantly increased since mid-August. The students demanded a stop of all study activities as sign of solidarity and protest against the acts of racial discrimination in the islands of Java and Sulawesi.

At 7.30 joint security force members came to the auditorium. After negotiations between the university principal and the students, police and military vehicles brought the students to Expo in the sub-urban district of Waena.

Riot Expo JPR victim Otinus Lokbere editAround 12.30 am, the vehicles dropped the students at the culture museum in Expo. Eyewitnesses claimed that members of nationalist mass organizations armed with sharp weapons attacked the students throwing bottles and stones at them. Subsequently, police forcefully dispersed the crowd using tear gas and life ammunition. Four Papuan students were shot dead by security force members (see image on the right), while ten protesters were injured during the crackdown. One military member was killed during the operation.

At 1.30 pm, joint security forces arrested hundreds of students, forced them to take off their shirts and lay face-down on the ground (see intro image). Some students were allegedly subjected to ill-treatment during arrest. According to information received, more than 300 students were detained at the Police mobile brigade headquarters in Kotaraja, Jayapura. They were released on 24 September 2019 at 1.30 pm.