Deadly riots in Indonesia

This item appears on page 18 of the November 2019 issue.

At least 23 people were killed in the city of Wamena in the Indonesian province of West Papua on Sept. 23 when protesters, most of whom were students, set fire to several buildings. The students began protesting after hearing reports that a teacher had made racist comments against ethnic Papuans.

On the same day, in Jayapura in the province of Papua, students holding a protest in solidarity with the one in Wamena attacked a police officer with rocks and machetes, forcing police to open fire on the group. The police officer was killed, as were three students.

The Indonesian provinces of West Papua and Papua make up the western half of the island of New Guinea. The native peoples of those provinces have long accused the Indonesian government of racism. Multiple buildings were burned and dozens of Papuans were arrested in August during violent protests that began after a group of Papuan students was accused of burning an Indonesian flag, leading to Papuans being attacked by Indonesian nationalists.

The Sept. 23 protests in Papua began while protests against reforms to the criminal code were ongoing in major cities across Indonesia, including Jakarta. Those opposing the reforms, which include expanding existing blasphemy laws, outlawing sex outside of marriage and making insulting the president illegal, accuse the government of attempting to create a religiously orthodox rule of law.