Indonesia: Police Investigate Politician’s Facebook Post Mocking Papua Activist

Ronna Nirmala
Indonesia: Police Investigate Politician’s Facebook Post Mocking Papua Activist A Papuan student whose face is painted with the colors of the separatist “Morning Star” flag holds a poster during a rally near the Indonesian presidential palace in Jakarta, Aug. 28, 2019

Indonesian police detained a politician on Wednesday after he allegedly compared a black human rights activist from Papua province to an ape in social media posts that sparked anger in the mostly Melanesian region. 

Ambroncius Nababan posted a photo on Facebook of Natalius Pigai, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), next to one of a gorilla along with a caption that read: “Brother, our vaccine is not Sinovac/Pfizer. Our vaccine is one for rabies.”

The post was in response to remarks by Pigai in a YouTube interview that he would refuse to receive a vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech and that vaccinations should be voluntary. 

In another Facebook post commenting on an article about Pigai’s avowed refusal to be vaccinated, Nababan wrote: “I’m very sorry, but the Sinovac vaccine is made for humans, not for gorillas.”

Nababan was summoned for questioning and named a suspect on Tuesday after police received a complaint from a Papuan youth group.

National police spokesman Rusdi Hartono said investigators had sufficient evidence to detain Nababan, a Hanura Party politician and member of the ruling coalition.

“(Nababan) is strongly suspected of having committed a criminal offense and has been detained,” Rusdi told reporters on Wednesday.

The politician could face five years in prison if convicted of violating a 2008 law to eliminate racism and discrimination, he said.

“The national police investigators will pursue this case in a professional and accountable manner,” Rusdi said, responding to concerns that Nababan could escape prosecution because of his political connections.

Nababan, who has been photographed with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and other officials, said he was sorry if people were offended by his posts, but denied any wrongdoing.

“I just copied and pasted the pictures,” Nababan said at the national police headquarters.

“I had no racist intent. I was just criticizing Mr. Pigai that if he objects to Sinovac, that’s fine, everyone can disagree, but don’t make it public,” he said.

“I sincerely apologize to all the people of Papua. Please let there be no misunderstanding and miscommunication and I hope people understand and forgive,” he said.

Previously, Nababan said it was inconceivable for him to be racist toward Papuans.

“I was a candidate for the House of Representatives from a Papuan electoral district in the 2019 general elections,” he said.

Meanwhile, a community leader, Samuel Tabuni, said the posts upset Papuans.

“It is true that Papuans are angry. We have made a petition to demand that the person be punished in accordance with Indonesian law,” he said in a statement.

“Racist statements that denigrate Papuans have been rampant. It’s not about Mr. Natalius Pigai, he’s just a symbol,” he said. “In my opinion, the law must be enforced to show that this country does not allow things like that to happen.”

John Nasion Robby Gobay said Papuans often have been subjected to racist abuse while offenders faced no consequences.

Gobay, the second secretary of the Papuan Customary Council, urged people to remain calm and trust police to handle the case.

“I remind you that this was the action of an individual, Ambroncius, not of the Batak people,” he said, referring to Nababan’s North Sumatra tribe.

2019 protests

Anger over Nababan’s posts raised fears of widespread protests in Papua similar to those in 2019 triggered by perceived racism involving security forces targeting Papuan students on Java island. Two weeks of violence left more than 40 people dead.  

The unrest prompted the government to send as many as 3,000 police and military troops to the Papua region and to block the internet for three weeks.

The central government in Jakarta blamed the separatist United Liberation Movement of West Papua and the West Papua National Committee for the uprising that saw thousands of people join protests calling for a vote on self-determination for the Indonesian half of New Guinea island.

Papuan activists and their supporters, inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, went on social media in 2020 using the hashtag “PapuanLivesMatter” to denounce what they see as racist treatment across Indonesia of Papuans.

A low-level separatist conflict has simmered since the 1960s in Papua, a region at the far eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago. The region declared its independence from Dutch colonial rule on Dec. 1, 1961. But that was rejected by the Netherlands and later by Indonesia.

In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded the region and annexed it. Six years later, the region held a referendum in which security forces selected slightly more than 1,000 people to agree to Papua’s formal absorption into the nation, according to human rights advocacy groups.


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