Jakarta – Papua Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) Director Emanuel Gobay says that hundreds of Cendrawasih University (Uncen) students took to the streets on Tuesday March 8 to hold actions opposing the creation of new provinces in Papua.
He said that the actions were to be held at a number of points as well as a long-march to the Papua Regional House of Representatives (DPRD) offices. However when the students wanted to hold the action, a joint unit of police was already on alert at a number of points with 20-30 officers on guard at each location.
"During the action they planned to gather at several points, first at upper Uncen, lower Uncen, Expo and Abe. But since early morning however police had already gathered at various points", Gobay told CNN Indonesia on Tuesday.
Gobay explained that before the action was held, the students had already sent a notification to the district police and that the action would be held peacefully.
However, said Gobay, the police instead committed a number of repressive acts such as forcibly breaking up the actions and spraying the protesters with water cannon.
"There was one point where they even used water cannon. The students ran into the boarding house. Now, that's the boarding house located at Abepura", he said.
"Then followed [the incident at] Uncen Abepura, where they were blocked by police. So the students couldn't exit. In the end the Uncen Abepura [students] joined with those at Waena in Taruna Bakti, they gathered there, then those at Uncen also gathered at the Taruna Bakti senior high school", he said.
Gobay explained that the students tried to negotiate with the police but the attempt was not welcomed. A joint unit of police, said Gobay, kept forcing the protesters to disperse.
"What was most disappointing was that the head of the Jayapura district police intelligence unit was there and even he ordered them to disperse them brutally. By brutal I mean they didn't heed one word from the students when they were invited to negotiate", he said.
According to Gobay, the police's attitude shows that democratic space for negotiating is not being heeded. Yet the right to negotiations is guaranteed under Law Number 19/1998 on the freedom to express an opinion in public.
Gobay said that the approach that the police should use is one that is more humanist and which prioritises dialogue. What is happening on the ground however is that the police arrive and immediately disperse peaceful protest actions by students.
"This is a method which is excessive, right, as if they are dealing with a riot. This needs special attention from the Indonesian police chief to the Papua regional police chief, especially the Jayapura district police chief and the head of the intelligence unit and in particular the use of firearms at peaceful actions", he added.
Papua regional police public relations chief Senior Commissioner Ahmad Musthofa Kamal meanwhile said that the actions proceeded normally. He did not explain in detail the number of police officers that were deployed although according to Kamal, the number of officers was sufficient.
"Usually, the Jayapura district police are backed up by the regional police, the officers were enough", he said when sought for confirmation.
Earlier, Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian said that Papua would be split up into six provinces, although the plan is not yet final and is still being debated.
The six provinces proposed by the government are Southwest Papua, West Papua, Central Papua, the Central Highlands, South Papua and Papua Tabi Saireri.
The plan however has been strongly opposed by Papuans. Papua People's Council (MRP) member Minggus Madai even said that breaking up Papua would be like ammunition and that the plan is being pushed through despite the Papua region not meeting the criteria for being split up.
Minggus said that if the plan goes ahead, it will only add new problems in Papua.
"The Papuan people refer to this as ammunition. A killing machine for the Papuan people. It's not appropriate to force it through", said Minggus during a virtual discussion on Wednesday February 23. (yla/pmg)
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "LBH Sebut Demo Tolak Pemekaran di Papua Dibubarkan Secara Brutal".]