Papuan protesters accuse police of using Covid-19 rapid tests to curb free speech

CNN Indonesia – February 24, 2021
Protest at home affairs ministry in Jakarta against Special Autonomy – February 24, 2021 (CNN)

Jakarta – Police asked participants at a protest action against Special Autonomy (Otsus) in Papua to take Covid-19 rapid tests at the site of the demonstration in front of the Home Affairs Ministry office in Jakarta on Wednesday February 24. The protesters however refused saying it was an attempt to silence them.

Police Assistant Superintendant Budi asked all of the demonstrators to take turns in undergoing a Covid-19 rapid test. Police had provided healthcare workers and rapid test for free.

"Please protesters take a rapid test first to confirm that everyone here is safe from the [corona] virus pandemic", said Budi from a police command vehicle in front of the Home Affairs Ministry office on Wednesday.

Budi said that they needed to take a rapid because there were too many protesters adding that under the Micro Enforcement of Restrictions on Public Activities (PPKM) the maximum limit on gatherings is 10 people.

The police claimed that they wanted to ensure that the demonstrators were safe and even declared they would take firm action if the students failed to follow the rules. "Before we [have to] take firm action, please follow the rules", cried Budi.

The Papuan students however refused to take the rapid test saying that they felt that the rule is only intended to restrict freedom of expression.

"Regarding the rapid test, last December we also refused because there was no mandatory letter. So, we reject the rapid test. This is curbing democratic space for Papuan people on the grounds of Covid-19", said one of the speakers, Ambrosius Mulait.

Police continued to appeal to the demonstrators but the Papuan students were reluctant to take a rapid test. Instead they began singing together.

"Papua is not the red-and-white, Papua is not the red-and-white, Papua is the Morning Star, the Morning Star", shouted the demonstrators referring to the red-and-white Indonesian national colours and the Morning Star independence flag. (dhf/arh)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Pedemo Otsus Papua Tolak Rapid Test di Depan Kantor Tito".]