Papua students in Surabaya commemorate 1 year since racist ‘monkey’ incident

CNN Indonesia – August 18, 2020
Papua students in Surabaya commemorate one year since ‘racist incident’ – August 18, 2020 (CNN)

Jakarta – Hundreds of Papuan students from the East Java cities of Malang and Surabaya held an action on Tuesday August 18 commemorating the racist incident that befell them one year ago.

The action was held at the Apsari Park opposite the East Java governor’s office at the State Grahadi building in Surabaya. As a result of the protest, traffic on Jl Gubernur Suryo became congested.

During the rally the students unfurled a banner with the message “Commemorating 1 year since Monkey Day, the Racist Incident” and “Stop racial discrimination against the Papuan people”.

“So the students have come together today from Malang and Surabaya to commemorate one year since the racism which happened in Surabaya, and this is being commemorated by all Papuan people”, said action spokesperson Rudi Wonda.

Wonda recalled that the racist incident began when allegations by irresponsible people emerged claiming that Indonesia’s national red-and-white flag had been vandalised and thrown into a ditch near the Papua student dormitory on Jl Kalasan in Surabaya

Wonda said that this was a provocative act of harassment against the Papuan students. Police and military personnel along with reactionary social organisations (ormas) responded to this by besieging the Papuan student dormitory.

During the incident on August 16, 2019, as many as 43 students inside the dormitory were besieged, persecuted, insulted with racist slurs and threatened by rogue TNI (Indonesian military) soldiers, police officers, Public Order Agency officials and reactionary groups.

“The intimidation and the siege lasted for more than 24 hours and was also accompanied by hate speech and slurs such as ‘monkeys’ against the 43 Papuan students”, said Wonda.

Security forces also fired several canisters of tear gas into the dormitory until the climax when the dormitory was stormed and 43 students were taken away to the Surabaya municipal police headquarters (Polrestabes).

“We were taken away and detained at the Polrestabes, however absolutely no evidence was found about who the perpetrators were that vandalised the red-and-white flag”, he said.

The incident triggered huge protest actions in several cities and regencies in Papua and West Papua province demanding that the perpetrators of the racist attack be arrested and tried.

But, he said, what actually happened was not justice for the Papuan people but rather they were silenced by blocking internet access, additional troops being sent to Papua and the criminalisation of activists who were charged with makar (treason, subversion, rebellion).

“We saw that domestically Indonesia portrays itself as a democratic country, but the process under the law is not in accordance with what is being glorified as a democratic country”, he said.

Meanwhile the perpetrators of the racist hate speech in Surabaya – who were the source of these incidents – namely state civil servant Syamsul Arifin and reactionary ormas leader Tri Susanti were only sentenced to five and seven months in prison. Meanwhile the legal proceedings against the rouge TNI officers who were involved remains unclear to this day.

“We think that this is extremely unjust, because while the perpetrators have been sentenced there was discrimination which tended to give special treatment to the perpetrators, which is referred to as what, applying a system of apartheid”, he said.

The students also urged the government to fully investigate gross human rights violations in Papua which have taken place since 1961 and called on the state to end the criminalisation of Papuan activists and human rights defenders, including exiled lawyer Veronica Koman.

Wonda’s group also demanded that the government be transparent and provide access to international journalists to report in the land of Papua.

They also demanded that the government halt all military operations which are currently taking place in the land of Papua and urged the government to provide the right to self-determination to the Papuan people. (frd/ain)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Mahasiswa Papua Surabaya Peringati Setahun Rasisme ‘Monyet’”.]