On December 1, 2021, Indonesian police interrupted and forcibly dispersed a Papuan independence day protest composed of dozens of members of the Papuan Student Alliance (AMP), the Indonesian Papuan Central Mountains Student Association (AMPTPI), and the Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-WP).
According to CNN Indonesia, the students had secured permission to hold an hour-long protest in front of the World Peace Gong Monument; however, after roughly 30 minutes of speeches by the participants calling for Papuan independence and making other demands, the Indonesian police demanded that the students disperse. The head of public relations for the Ambon police later argued that the students had lacked the proper permit for the event.
Kompas reported that the students refused and physical clashes broke out, culminating in Indonesian police officers – at least some in plain clothes – beating, dragging, and apparently attempting to seize participants. Some unknown individuals that were not identified as officers also allegedly participated in the violence against the students and some students allegedly pushed police officers. Amnesty International stated that 19 protesters sustained injuries and, according to Papuan human rights activist Veronica Koman, police forced any protesters that filmed the violence to delete the footage.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by authorities violently dispersing students in an apparent effort to restrict their peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – conduct which is expressly protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Indonesia is a party. While state security forces have a responsibility to maintain security and safety, they must also refrain from the disproportionate use of force and ensure that their actions are not intended to restrict or retaliate against student expression and do not endanger civilians. Likewise, while students have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they are obligated to exercise those rights peacefully and should refrain from engaging in violence. In addition to harm to the immediate victims, the use of violence in response to nonviolent student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).