INDONESIAN SECURITY FORCES have used excessive force and racially abused protesters peacefully opposing the renewal of the Papuan Special Autonomy Law, new research by Amnesty International has revealed.

Papuan protesters told how they were targeted with water cannon, kicked and punched, and beaten with guns and rubber batons at peaceful protests during the last month. At least one person was injured after security forces opened fire on protesters on 16 August. Three protesters reported being called .’monkey’ while being arrested during protests in July.

Amnesty has analysed videos and photos which show police using unlawful force on peaceful protesters, and has verified injuries suffered by protesters.

Richard Pearshouse, from Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Programme, said: “The Indonesian security forces’ excessive use of force and racial abuse towards peaceful Papuan protesters is abhorrent. The reports of assault – both physical and verbal – that we have gathered reveals the true contempt the security forces have for the rights of Papuans.

“The Indonesian authorities must immediately investigate the reports of use of discriminatory excessive force and racial abuse against protesters, and also ensure the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly is respected.”

To date, protests against the controversial renewal of the Papua Special Autonomy Law have taken place in several cities, from 14 July to 16 August. The protests have also called for the release of Victor Yeimo, a pro-independence activist from Papua facing life imprisonment for his political views.

Amnesty interviewed 17 people who participated in protests in the cities of Jakarta, Jayapura, Sorong and Yahukimo, and verified their accounts using open source video footage.

Shootings, beatings and racial abuse

On 16 August, security forces opened fire on protesters in Yahukimo, injuring one person. One protester told Amnesty he heard multiple gunshots, and that several bullets were also found close to where the protest took place.

In a protest in Jayapura on the same day, protesters confirmed the use of water cannon, and beatings with rubber batons and guns by security forces. Amnesty has verified video showing the use of water cannon against peaceful protesters and of security forces beating them with rubber batons.

One student who took part in a protest in Jakarta on July 15 told Amnesty that security forces beat and racially abused him before he was arrested. He said: “I was dragged down and taken far from the action, then I got punched, about seven times. When I tried to escape, the police pulled me in and stepped on me, on my shoulders and thighs, and called me ‘monkey’. I had to cover my face with my hands to protect from kicks. Then, I was arrested and pulled in the truck.”

Two other protesters in Jakarta told Amnesty that security forces also called protesters ‘monkey’ while pushing them into police trucks.

A protester in the demonstration in Sorong on 19 July told Amnesty that police officers beat him as he was arrested. He said: “I was kicked in the stomach and on my head. I was arrested because I only asked the National Police Chief for help to free the protesters who were arrested by the police.” The arrest and beating were corroborated by another protestor and video footage.

A protester in Sorong criticised the excessive use of force by security forces. He said: “They just want us Papuans not to speak out about our rights. That’s why every time we take action, it’s always forced to disband like that.”

In the protest in Jayapura on 14 July, two protesters reciunted how police beat protesters using their fists, guns, and rubber batons. Video verified by Amnesty shows two security forces officials beating protesters with batons.

Papua and West Papua Special Autonomy Law

Protests initially began against the decision of the Indonesian House of Representatives to renew the Special Autonomy Law for Papua and West Papua provinces. Protesters have also highlighted the Indonesian government’s ongoing racial discrimination against Papuans, and called for the right to self-determination.

The Papua Special Autonomy Law was adopted in 2001. The law was intended to give the Papuan people more powers to govern themselves while remaining part of Indonesia, in response to calls for Papuan self-determination.

The new Special Autonomy Law introduces changes that strengthen the authority of central government and reduces the autonomy of Papuan institutions. The new law creates a special agency responsible for coordinating and evaluating the implementation of Special Autonomy, chaired by the Indonesian Vice President and having an office in the region. The new law also removes the right of the Papuan population to form local political parties.

Usman Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director, said: “The protests against the renewal of the Special Autonomy Law shows the failure of the Indonesian government to adequately consult with the Papuan indigenous people.

“The government must ensure respect for the rights of the Papuan indigenous people. This can be only done by effectively involving the Papuan indigenous population in the design and implementation of the Special Autonomy Law.”

Papua is a former Dutch colony that was placed under Indonesian rule following a UN-supervised referendum in 1969. The Indonesian government handpicked the majority of the Papuans who voted in the referendum. They voted unanimously in favour of integration with Indonesia.

Most Papuans consider the vote fraudulent. An independence movement has been active ever since. Over the last two decades, hundreds of men and women have been arrested for non-violent pro-independence activities. Dozens of peaceful protesters remain in prison.

Amnesty does not take any position regarding the political status of any province in Indonesia. However, it upholds human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which safeguard the right to voice political opinion or views, as long as they do not advocate hatred, discrimination or violence.

* More information on the situation in Papua here.

* Source: Amnesty International