Black Lives Matter in Indonesia, Too

American protests are inspiring Indonesians to tackle racism against Papuans.

Papuan students take part in a rally in Surabaya, East Java, on June 16, 2020 demanding the Indonesian government to free seven Papuan protesters, charged with treason for their involvement in anti-racism protests in 2019, ahead of their verdicts on June 17. (Photo by JUNI KRISWANTO / AFP) (Photo by JUNI KRISWANTO/AFP via Getty Images)

n the indelible photograph of Obby Kogoya, the black Indonesian university student is flat on his stomach on the road; a policeman’s hand claws at his nostrils and another cups his chin while he screams in obvious pain. He is framed by a dense tangle of arms and legs of police who have ganged up to arrest him for participating in a peaceful protest. Even if you have never been to Indonesia, let alone the university town of Yogyakarta in Central Java where Kogoya went to school, the image of craven police brutality against a young black man will be familiar.

The echoes with the plight of African Americans is not lost on Indonesians from Papua and West Papua, the country’s two easternmost provinces, which are populated mainly by dark-skinned Melanesians and home to a long-standing separatist struggle. Recently, Papuans have been juxtaposing the photo of Kogoya, who was arrested in 2016 at age 21, with George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man killed by Minneapolis police in late May.Trending Articles

“In Papua, we have a lot of names like George Floyd,” said Elvira Rumkabu, a Papuan international relations lecturer who lives in the regional capital of Jayapura. “It’s interesting to see just how much Papuans are relating to #BlackLivesMatter. Papuans share the anger of black Americans … and we are demanding now that people around the world, but especially Indonesians, realize we have same suffering here.”

That Black Lives Matter is proving so resonant halfway around the world should be no surprise. Over the past two weeks, countries from New Zealand to the U.K. have seen protests in solidarity with Floyd. But the case of Indonesia, and of Papua, is one of the movement’s most powerful ripple effects. Seven years after it started in the United States, Black Lives Matter’s framework for understanding systemic racism and violence against black people is providing a novel way to understand a little-known, little-reported, heavily militarized and racialized conflict in the world’s fourth-most populous country.


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