Update Anti-Racism Demonstrations: Government responds with mass arrests and prosecution of activists

Almost one month has passed since the first anti-racism demonstrations in response to racist assaults against Papuan students in the Javanese cities of Malang and Surabaya took place in all cities across West Papua. The Indonesian Government has responded with mass arrests and a widespread criminalisation campaign against political activists and human rights defenders. Statistic data suggests that Indonesian police officers conducted 205 arrests and pressed criminal charges against 88 suspects between 20 August and 19 September 2019 (see table below).

The police do not only prosecute protesters participating in riots, but also protesters who have been severely injured during violent crackdowns by security forces, as it occurred in the highland town of Waghete, Deiyai Regency. At least 25 of the detainees are members of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), a political movement organisation promoting the right to self-determination through peaceful protest. Among these detainees are the KNPB leaders Agus Kosay (chairman) and Steven Itlay (chairman of the Timika branch office). The police also arrested the vice-chairman of the legislative committee of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), Buchtar Tabuni (see intro image) and the head of the ULMWP politics desk, Basoka Logo, as well as three other ULMWP members.

Veronika KomanThe Police did not only prosecute activists in West Papua, but also in other parts of the archipelago. In Jakarta, police officers arrested Surya Anta Ginting, spokesperson of the Indonesian Peoples Front for West Papua (FRI WP) and five Papuan activists. The six detainees have been charged under Articles 106 and 110 of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) regarding treasonous acts. The Police also charged Indonesian human rights defender and lawyer Veronica Koman (see image on the right) with Article 160 KUHP on incitement, violation of the Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE Law) and the Law on Elimination of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination, for tweeting about a violent attack on a Papuan student dormitory on 17 August 2019. Veronica Koman denies any wrongdoing and accused the police of power abuse. She has faced harassment, intimidation and threats, including death and rape threats, for her work exposing allegations of human rights violations in West Papua.

Table with mass arrests and prosecutions between 20 August and 18 September 2019

Town (Regency) Date Arrests Prosec-utions Additional information
Bintuni (Teluk Bintuni) 20.08.2019 1 1 N/A
Timika (Mimika) 21.08.2019 36 13 police raised charges against activists alleged of being sympathisers of the KNPB
Fak-Fak (Fak-Fak) 21.08.2019 3 3 N/A
Manokwari 23.08.2019 13 10 two suspects charged for alleged vandalism of an ATM, one suspect charged for burning an Indonesian flag
Sorong (Sorong) 27.08.2019 13 7 four Australian citizens were deported for breaching the immigration law, they were allegedly watching the anti-racism demonstration
Waghete (Deiyai) 28.08.2019 16 16 The police initiated prosecution against protesters who sustained bullet wounds during the crackdown
Jayapura (Jayapura) 29.08.2019 63 28 during riots in relation to anti racism demonstration, charged with article 170 KUHP regarding violence against objects or persons
Jakarta (Jakarta) between 30.08 and 01.09.2019 6 6 charged with articles 106 and 110 regarding treasonous acts
Jayapura (Jayapura)  09.09.2019 18 2 Police pressed charges against chairpersons of the student council of the University for Science and Technology (USTJ) and Cenderawasih University (UNCEN, FISIP)
Jayapura (Jayapura) 09.09.2019 1 1 ULMWP vice-chairman of the legislative committee of the ULMWP, Buchtar Tabuni, charged with treason
Serui (Kepulauan Yapen) 16.09.2019 3 N/A N/A
Jayapura (Jayapura) 17.09.2019 1 1 KNPB Chairman, Agus Kosay, charged with treason and incitement
Sorong (Sorong) 18.09.2019 9 N/A Protesters were detained at Sorong municipality police station
Timika (Mimika) 19.09.2019 22 N/A arrests made during forceful dispersal of customary ceremony to welcome students returning form other Indonesian islands
T O T A L 205 88  


After anti-racism demonstrations took place across West Papua, the central Government deployed additional security forces in West Papua and blocked the internet in order to prevent the sharing of information regarding these incidents. The Papuan Regional Police reacted by adopting a ‘Police Edict for the Protection of Security and Public Order’, which inter alia criminalizes persons and groups participating in demonstrations or undertaking other activities that promote political self-determination. The edict also states that any person distributing false information or news that may result in anger or hatred among other groups of individuals will be strictly prosecuted.