Series of attacks against human rights defenders advocating for human rights in West Papua

The number of attacks and harassment against human rights defenders advocating for human rights in West Papua have significantly increased throughout the past weeks. A physical attack against human rights defender Yuliana Yabansabra (see intro image) occurred on 8 June 2020 in the Papuan regional capital of Jayapura. She is part of a team of lawyers providing legal support to the seven political detainees, who are currently being tried under treason charges at the District Court in Balikpapan, Kalimantan Timur province. Three days before the attack, Yulaina Yabansabra spoke out about the human rights situation in West Papua during a public Zoom conference organised by Amnesty International Indonesia. Activists from the Teknokra Student Press Activities Unit (UKPM) at the University of Lampung (Unila) in South Sumatra were reportedly intimidated before holding an online discussion on "Racial discrimination against Papuans" on 11 June 2020.

An unknown perpetrator attacked Yuliana Yabansabra as she was driving her motorcycle at around 3.00 pm on the Abepura main road in Jayapura. The perpetrator, also on a motorcycle, approached her from behind and punched her on the head. She was wearing a helmet at that time and was able to maintain control of her bike. According to Yuliana, the attacker was not an ordinary criminal attempting to snatch her bag, as it commonly happens in Indonesia. Instead, the perpetrator deliberately tried to make her fall down. The perpetrator likely attacked Yuliana because she participated in the Zoom event on 5 June 2020 or due to her involvement in human rights advocacy.

She tried to chase after the perpetrator, but the attacker was able to escape. On 10 June 2020, she officially reported the assault to the police. Yuliana Yabansabra stated to local media that such attacks are not going to prevent her from advocating for justice and human rights in West Papua.

A second incident took place on June 5 2020. It involved intrusions and harassments of multiple human rights defenders during a public zoom discussion about the upcoming review of Indonesia by the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee. The speakers talked about the importance of the ICCPR (International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights) and explained relevant human rights issues and racism against native Papuans in West Papua. The video conference was part of the '#PapuanLivesMatter' Campaign.

The video conference was interrupted by a series of deliberate disturbances, including spam calls to some of the speakers’ mobile phones and "zoombombing", a type of cyberattack in which unknown users log into Zoom sessions to interrupt meetings. The spam calls allegedly originated from a phone number in the United States and targeted the Director of Amnesty International Indonesia, Usman Hamid, Papuan human rights lawyer, Yulianan Yabansabra and Tigor G. Hutapea, a member of the Indonesian NGO Pusaka.

The Teknora chief editor, Mitha Setiani Asih, and general manager, Chairul Rahman Arif, received voice chat threats, phone calls and screenshots of Arif’s ID card. Moreover, Arif's private social media account was hacked before the event. They filed a complaint to the local police in response to the threats. According to the local police, the evidence was not strong enough to initiate a criminal investigation against the perpetrators. The online discussion took place as planned without cyber attacks or other attempts to disrupt the event. Both stated they received pressure from the campus rectorate. University representatives asked them to postpone the event and change the resource persons for the event to make the discussion more “balanced”.

Further hacker attacks were reported by Papua researcher, George Saa, and human rights lawyer, Veronica Koman.


The civil society coalition for the protection of human rights defenders documented 72 cases of assaults, intimidation, criminalisation and obstruction of human rights defenders throughout the Jokowi presidency. The commitment of the state in protecting human rights defenders is still very poor. The national human rights commission notes that there are only a few government policies or laws that can be used as a legal guideline for the protection, function and work of human rights activists in Indonesia.