The Stream

Should West Papua remain part of Indonesia?

Recent clashes with Indonesian forces have reignited calls for referendum on Papuan independence.

In West Papua, what began as protests over alleged racism towards Papuan students has now turned into renewed calls for an independent state.

Since late August, protesters have marched with the banned Morning Star flag – a symbol of the West Papuan independence movement – and across the province, government buildings have been set on fire. Witnesses say at least six demonstrators and one soldier were killed last week.

The protests began after the spread of a video showing Papuan students being called “monkeys” and other racist taunts by Indonesian security forces. On Thursday, Indonesia partially lifted an internet blackout in the region that began on August 21, but services are still blocked in regions where the worst violence occurred. Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information said the measure is meant to stop the spread of fake news and hoaxes.

This year marks 50 years since West Papua became a part of Indonesia following a controversial 1969 vote supervised by the UN. In 2017, 1.8 million Papuans unsuccessfully petitioned the UN to recognise a self-determination vote.

Most Papuans are Christian Melanesians and see themselves as a group that is separate and distinct from Muslim-majority Indonesia. In the past, Jakarta has not been open to a new referendum on resource-rich West Papua.

In this episode, we’ll look at the current unrest in West Papua and hear more about the Papuan push for independence.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with: 

Abdul Kadir Jailani, @akjailani
Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to Canada

Benny Wenda, @BennyWenda
Chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP)

Victor Mambor, @victorcmambor
Journalist, JUBI

Yenny Wahid, @yennywahid
Executive Director, The Wahid Institute

Read more:
Indonesian police ban violent protests, separatism in Papua – Reuters
West Papua students ‘shot by militias’ as video of soldiers firing on crowds emerges – Guardian

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