Indonesian Papua unrest

This item appears on page 19 of the October 2019 issue.

On Aug. 19 in Surabaya, on the Indonesian island of Java, dozens of students who belonged to Papuan ethnic groups were arrested for allegedly damaging an Indonesian flag. After they were released, they holed up in their dormitories, where stones were thrown and racist slurs were hurled at them by Indonesian nationalists. When that was posted on social media, riots broke out in West Papua, and the West Papua Parliament building in the city of Manokwari was set on fire.

As riots and protests continued to spread, including to the neighboring province of Papua as well as to the nation’s capital, Jakarta, on Java, Indonesia sent more than 1,000 troops into West Papua while cutting off Internet and cell phone service to the province. On Aug. 28, at least six protesters and one military officer were killed and many dozens were wounded in clashes in West Papua.

West Papua and the neighboring province, Papua, make up the western half of the island of New Guinea. The provinces declared independence from the Netherlands in 1961 but were absorbed by Indonesia in 1963. Militant separatist groups have operated on the island since that time.