Protesters demanding release of Papuan tapols in Yogya scuffle with police

Suara Jogya – June 15, 2020
Rally in Yogyakarta calling for release of Papuan political prisoners – June 15, 2020 (Suara Jogya)

M Nurhadi and Muhammad Ilham Baktora – An action calling for the release of Papuan political prisoners (tapol) which was held at the zero kilometer point in the Central Java city of Yogyakarta on Monday June 15 has become heated. A small disturbance flared up because a police post loudspeaker was too noisy and disturbed the protesters.

Several action coordinators tried to ask the police to turn the volume down but the police failed to heed the requests and instead asked that demonstrators pay attention to their appeals.

People’s Solidarity for Democracy Alliance public relations officer Marwan explained that they asked the police nicely to turn the volume down but the request was ignored.

“The loudspeaker system we’re using is only a megaphone. Meanwhile the loudspeaker at the police post is louder so the speeches we’re giving can’t be heard. We asked that it be turned down but it wasn’t allowed”, said Marwan when speaking to Suara Jogja at the zero kilometre point in front of the central post office on Monday.

The lack of a reasonable response by the police caused the protesters emotions to flare up resulting in a scuffle and shouting match between police and protesters.

“There were some whose emotions flared up so a small clash occurred. Although we negotiated with them again asking that the volume be turned down and the action went ahead”, said Marwan.

The protest, said Marwan, was a solidarity action involving 14 different groups calling for the release of seven Papuan political prisoners who are being tried on treason charges at the Balikpapan District Court in East Kalimantan.

During the action the demonstrators also highlighted the government’s actions related to discrimination and racism in the land of Papua.

“This action is highlighting the HAM [human rights] problems which are happening in the land of Papua. For example the judge’s verdict against seven Papuan political prisoners [in Balikpapan] who face prison sentences of between 10 and 17 years. Yet the HAM problems which took place in Surabaya only resulted in sentence of one to five years. Discrimination is happening here”, explained Marwan referring to the light sentences handed down against people who blockaded and stormed a Papuan student dormitory in the Central Java provincial capital of Surabaya in August 2019.

Marwan said that the seven political prisoners were articulating the problem of racism which has been happening in Papua yet on the grounds of creating unrest, they are now facing heavy jail sentences.

“The Indonesian people should support this as a democratic measure. As we know, in the Constitution, Indonesia’s highest [law], it explains in the preamble that independence is the right of all nations. They should offer support for this on humanitarian grounds”, explained Marwan.

At 11 am the hundreds of protesters marched from the Papuan student dormitory in Kamasan towards Jl Kusumanegara south of the Malioboro shopping district. From there they continued towards the zero kilometre point where they formed a large circle. At 12-noon precisely they began giving speeches.

In relation to the public’s view that such actions violate the health protocols for preventing the spread of Covid-19, Marwan said that although they have been asked to stay at home, various forms of oppression are still taking place.

“We cannot of course remain silent. If we are quiet at home and fell like everything’s just okay, many rogue elements will take advantage of this situation. A concrete example is in the midst of the pandemic many employees have been sacked. Land evictions are still taking place in various parts of Indonesia. The government which should safeguard the public is not fully and properly carrying out this duty”, he said.

Interviewed separately, Yogyakarta municipal police chief Senior Commissioner Sudjarwoko explained that they will not take repressive action against the demonstrators.

“We have already received a notification [for the action]. But what is clear is that we will still provide an opportunity for the public to articulate their aspirations. In the midst of a pandemic such as this we are tasked with maintaining Covid-19 security protocols. Particularly wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing”, he added.

As well as bringing a number of posters with the message “Release the 7 Papua tapols unconditionally, #Papualivesmatter”, the demonstrators also brought a banner reading “End military operations in Nduga and end the criminalisation of Papuan activists”.

The action at the zero kilometre point ended at 2 pm and the protesters left the location in an orderly manner.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Suarakan Pembebasan 7 Tapol Papua, Aksi di Nol Kilometer Jogja Sempat Panas”.]