Papua activists say attacks on civil freedoms belie claim Indonesia is democratic

Suara Papua – December 6, 2023
Students and rights activists hold protest at South-West Papua governor's office – December 6, 2023 (SP)

Reiner Brabar, Sorong – The gagging of democratic space that continues to occur in Indonesia shows the failure of claims that Indonesia is a democratic country. Democracy and human rights have suffered a decline, and even the right to civil space is shrinking with the curbing of freedom of expression.

This issue was raised by Nusantara Traditional Community Alliance (AMAN) Regional Board Chairperson Feki Wilson Mobalen when speaking in front of the South-West Papua governor's office on Wednesday December 6.

Mobalen said that democracy in Indonesia has suffered a retreat in areas including civil liberties, freedom of opinion, association and peaceful assembly.

"The incident experienced by Papua students in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara on December 1, 2023 represents a bitter truth for the government because [it shows the] decline of democracy in Indonesia", he said.

Mobalen noted that this is not the first time that democratic space for activists as well as Papuan students has been curbed in Indonesia. He said that so far people in the land of Papua continue to safeguard and protect anyone expressing their views.

"It's inversely proportional, when Papuan students hold peaceful actions or express opinions in public they will definitely encounter resistance and rejection from various mass organisations in every city [where they] study in Indonesia, and this happens right in front of the police. We ask that all discrimination and violence against Papuan students in other regions must not be repeated", said Mobalen.

Eko Baru, one of the protesters, said that the assault on Papuan students in Kupang was because the police intentionally allowed mass organisations (ormas) the freedom to commit dishonorable actions.

"This occurred in front of police officers. Meaning the police intentionally allowed the Papuan students to be assaulted by the ormas", said Baru.

Baru emphasised that Indonesian police chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo must immediately evaluate the performance of officers who are unprofessional in carrying out their duties.

"The ormas who assaulted the Papuan students and the police on duty must be questioned. If necessary the East Nusa Tenggara Kapolda [regional police chief] and the Kupang Kapolres [district police chief] must be dismissed because they failed to uphold the values of democracy", he said.


During a December 1 commemoration in Kupang, a group Papuan students were attacked by the nationalist organisations Garda Flobamora and Garuda. Police officers who had been on guard at the demonstration not only failed to prevent the attack, which resulted in several students being seriously injured, but then arrested and detained the students.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Demokrasi di Indonesia Tumbang di atas Kata 'Maaf'".]