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Three Indonesians Stand Trial over Remarks that Sparked Papua Unrest

Yovinus Guntur W.
Surabaya, Indonesia
2019-11-27
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Syamsul Arifin (holding microphone) testifies during his trial in East Java’s Surabaya District Court, Nov. 27, 2019.
Syamsul Arifin (holding microphone) testifies during his trial in East Java’s Surabaya District Court, Nov. 27, 2019.
Yovinus Guntur/BenarNews

Three people went on trial Wednesday in Indonesia’s second-largest city on charges of hate speech and misinformation for allegedly provoking recent anti-Jakarta protests that turned deadly in the restive Papua region.

Syamsul Arifin, Tri Susanti and Ardian Andiansah, all civilians, heard their indictments read by prosecutors in separate courtrooms at the Surabaya District Court in East Java province.

The prosecutor, Muhammad Nizar, accused Tri of making false accusations on television that Papuan university students had desecrated an Indonesian flag in front of their dormitory in Surabaya by throwing it into a ditch during an anti-Jakarta protest in the city.

Tri’s allegations angered members of nationalist organizations, prompting a protest outside the Papuan students’ dormitory and a police raid on the building, the indictment said.

“It was found that these events were caused by a hoax motivated by ethnic and racial prejudices perpetrated by the defendant Tri Susanti,” the indictment said.

The indictment also accused Tri of sending WhatsApp messages to a nationalist group urging members to protest at the dormitory and claiming that the Papuans were preparing to attack with machetes and arrows.

In a separate trial, prosecutors charged Ardian with spreading information intended to incite hatred or hostility by allegedly uploading a video to his YouTube channel with the title “Papuans’ dormitory picketed by locals for refusing to raise the Red and White (Indonesian) flag.”

Meanwhile, Syamsul was accused of spreading racial and ethnic hatred through public speeches, his indictment read.

A lawyer for Tri, Sahid, said the indictment was vague.

“We will respond to it. We will uncover the facts and leave the cause to the judges,” Sahid, who goes by one name, told BenarNews.

The trials were adjourned until next week, during which witnesses are scheduled to be heard.

The Surabaya protests broke out on Aug. 16 after a flag pole at the Papuan students’ dormitory toppled and the flag was found in the ditch.

The students said they did not know what happened to the flag, but the next day, more protesters gathered outside the dormitory. Some in the crowd threw rocks at the building and hurled racist epithets such as “monkeys” and “pigs.”

Later, heavily armed riot police stormed the building and arrested 43 Papuan students, who were released hours later.

News about allegations that security forces had treated the Papuan students harshly and hurled racist abuse at them ignited mass protests, some of which descended into violence, and growing calls for a referendum on self-determination in the mainly Melanesian region.

Weeks of unrest in the region left more than 40 people dead.

Police have charged six activists with treason for flying the banned Papuan separatist Morning Star flag during a rally demanding a referendum on self-determination in Jakarta late August.

Police are also seeking the arrest of Australian-based Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman, whom they accuse of spreading misinformation through her social-media posts about police treatment of the Papuan students in Surabaya.

The provinces of Papua and West Papua make up one-fifth of Indonesia’s land mass. Only 5.9 million of Indonesia’s 250 million people live there.

The region has been the scene of a low-level separatist conflict since it was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969, after a U.N.-administered ballot known as the Act of Free Choice. Many Papuans and rights groups said the vote was a sham because it involved only 1,000 people.

Indonesian forces have been accused of gross human rights violations in its anti-insurgency campaign.

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