In brief

Two killed in new wave of protests against Indonesia in West Papua

Protesters denounce police brutality, oppose government plan to divide country into several provinces

Burial of the two men.
Burial of the two men. Author: Veronica Koman @ Twitter
Indonesian police have said two protesters were killed in West Papua’s Yahukimo district during one of several ongoing protests against a government plan to divide the territory into five or six provinces.

The victims are two men aged 39 and 21, Yakob Meklok and Erson Weipa, Green Left says quoting sources from KNPB, one of West Papua’s leading organisations.

Police say they had to intervene after some protesters set fire to buildings.

The brutality of Indonesian security forces is a constant feature of the West Papua conflict, which dates back to the 1960s. In February, the Indonesian human rights organisation KontraS reported that seven children were tortured by Indonesian military personnel for allegedly stealing weapons. As a result of the ill-treatment, one of the children, Makilon Tabuni, died.

On 8 March, hundreds of students demonstrated in West Papua’s capital Jayapura to protest against those brutalities and to voice their opposition to Indonesian government’s plans to divide West Papua into several provinces.

Protests have since been taking place in various locations in West Papua and also in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. Demonstrations were ongoing on 17 March.

According to Indonesian lawyer and activist Veronica Koman, the current wave of protests is the largest since the 2019 demonstrations.

Protesters fear that the division of West Papua into five or six provinces —there are currently two of them— will lead to a further tightening of Indonesia’s grip on the territory, sending in more security forces and bureaucrats, and co-opting local elites. They also charge that Papuans have not been consulted on the division.

The Papuan nationalist movement instead calls for a referendum on self-determination. Indonesia refuses, despite the fact that in 2019 the main pro-independence organisation, the ULMWP, submitted 1.8 million signatures to the UN in support of the vote.