30 Aug 2019

Thousands of Papuans occupy governor's office after rioting

5:56 pm on 30 August 2019

Thousands of Papuans in Indonesia are occupying the governor's office, a protest organiser says, after several government buildings were torched in the provincial capital Jayapura on Thursday.

Jayapura burning after protestors torched the Papuan provincial capital and other buildings, 29 August 2019

Jayapura burning after protestors torched the Papuan provincial capital and other buildings, 29 August 2019 Photo: Supplied

Security forces struggling to maintain stability during widespread protests across Papua - the biggest in decades in the region - have been boosted by hundreds of extra security forces flown in overnight. But protestors and Papuan leaders ahve said they were worried the occupation could end in bloodshed.

The unrest in Jayapura, which involved building fronts being smashed and the parliament and other government complexes set ablaze, is the latest in nearly two weeks of demonstrations that have rocked Papua.

Although protestors are focused on countering anti-Papuan racism by other Indonesians, they have also included calls for an independence referendum. The country's top security minister has rejected the latter.

Witnesses and police said police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protestors on Thursday, according to one protestor and the Papuan online news outlet Tabloid Jubi. Around 5000 protestors remained camped outside Papua governor Lukas Enembe's office on Friday, said Victor Yeimo, a spokesperson for the pro-independence West Papua National Committee.

"This is our land and we are not monkeys," said Rosa Moiwend, a Papuan activist in Jayapura. Outrage at the labelling of Papuans as "monkeys" by some Indonesians has featured widely in protest symbolism.

The West Papuan independence campaigner Benny Wenda.

West Papuan independence campaigner Benny Wenda has called for UN intervention in Papua to avoid what he said could "turn into a bloodbath". Photo: RNZ / Jamie Tahana

Indonesia has struggled to contain protests which have galvanised huge numbers of Papuans and this week have quickly lapsed into violent rioting.

Six-hundred soldiers arrived in Jayapura on Thursday night, state media reported.

Activists said security forces had been heavy-handed and a heightened presence would only exacerbate discontent among Papuans.

The government has blocked internet across Papua for the past week in what it claims is a necessary anti-disinformation measure. Some phone lines have been disrupted too, including in Deiyai where at least two protestors and a soldier died in a clash on Wednesday.

Activists claim at least six protestors were shot dead by security forces, which the government has refuted.

"This is really something new," said Hipolitus Wangge, an Indonesian researcher at the Marthinus Academy in Jakarta.

"Over 57 years, there is no such protest like this."

He added that the protest movement had highlighted the government's inability to address the concerns of Papuans.

Police have slapped travel bans on seven people who hurled racist insults at Papuan students earlier this month in the Javanese city of Surabaya, an incident viewed as the catalyst for the protests.

Protestors in Papua's capital Jayapura take to the streets to demonstrate, 30 August 2019

Protestors in Papua's capital Jayapura take to the streets to demonstrate, 30 August 2019 Photo: Mona

President Joko Widodo appealed for calm and urged protestors to refrain from damaging public facilities, the state-news agency Antara reported.

"Let us keep Papua as a peaceful region, peaceful land."

In a statement on Friday, the West Papuan independence campaigner Benny Wenda called for international intervention, including from the UN, to avoid what he said could "turn into a bloodbath".

"We cannot allow another Santa Cruz massacre to take place in West Papua," he said in reference to the 1991 incident in occupied East Timor, where Indonesian soldiers shot dead at least 250 pro-independence demonstrators.