Give Papua more freedom
Give Papua more freedom
Mon, July 18 2016 | 07:09 am
Indonesia could claim a diplomatic victory over those who have for decades been offering international support for Papuan independence after the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) denied full membership to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) last week. But that would not change anything in Papua, where discontent and distrust toward Jakarta is still rife.

Sadly, heavy-handed approaches, which have proven to be ineffective and obsolete, have remained the only option available to deal with the dissatisfaction and grievances of Papuan people, as seen in the arrest of dozens of people in Papua and Yogyakarta for throwing their weight behind ULMWP over the past week.

Worse still, in the case of the Yogyakarta incident, local community groups have been involved in suppressing the right of Papuans to voice their thoughts, not to mention the dissemination of old pictures on social media to mislead the public about what really happened. The anger of Yogyakartans about Papuan “troublemakers” is reminiscent of the role of hard-line groups in the dispersal of academic forums discussing the 1965 tragedy held in the city over the last few years, as well as in the restriction of freedom of expression throughout the country.

There are indeed sporadic armed attacks launched by the Free Papua Organization (OPM), which the Indonesian Military (TNI) and police have cracked down on, because they pose a clear danger to other people and public security.

The Papuan protesters and students are merely expressing their dissatisfaction with the impoverishment they have been enduring in their resource-rich land. So it should come as no surprise if they aspire for an independent state because they have lost trust in the government.

Such demands were once expressed in other mineral and oil-producing regions like Riau, and even in Yogyakarta when its people defended the city’s monarchy. But rather than making arrests or clamping down on their aspirations, the central government opted for dialogue to reach a settlement.

There has been no action taken against groups and their members for having openly expressed their aspirations for an Islamic state in the country either.

The fact that Papuan people have to risk arrest and jail sentences on treason charges to simply exercise their freedom of expression will only exacerbate their feelings of being discriminated against and further fortify their struggle to part with Indonesia.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has realized his promise to visit Papua more frequently than his predecessors and ordered the acceleration of development in the easternmost territory, especially the construction of roads that will bring many regions out of isolation.

But the initiatives will not help Jakarta win the hearts and minds of Papuans unless the security approach stops. Papuans do not need special autonomy status that only triggers large-scale corruption in the first place, but fulfillment of their rights as Indonesian citizens.

Our Constitution guarantees them this.

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