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West Papua 2022 Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly Full Report

10 May 2023
Filep Karma's funeral.


London, 10th May 2023

Executive Summary

West Papua in 2022 has seen increasing clampdowns on freedom of assembly and expression, including increasing arrests, clamping down on demonstrations, and the harassment or worse of people seeking to uphold and defend rights, particularly human right defenders and the media. It has also been a year of big events which has given a high level of exposure to Indonesia: the much anticipated division of Papua into many more provinces, the signing off of the new criminal code and the Universal Periodic Review of Indonesia at the UN. Since 2021, we have seen an increase in violations of rights to freedom of expression and assembly across the board:

  • 7.14 per cent increase in incidents of arbitrary dispersals
  • 7.41 per cent increase incidents of arbitrary arrests, with 19.37 per cent more individuals being arrested (an estimated total of 801 people)
  • 25 per cent increase in intimidation and harrassment incidents, including torture and killings. 
  • 16.7 per cent increase in internet-related incidents

The report also shows in numbers that:

  • Incidents were recorded in 14 provinces across Indonesia, with the highest proportion (39.6 per cent) taking place in the rump Papua province, highlighting the amount of incidents that take place in Jayapura compared with other parts of the newly split province. Looking at the whole region of West Papua (now comprising West, Central, South, Southwest and Highland Papua provinces, as well as the rump Papua province around Jayapura), 75.5 per cent of all Papua-related violations across Indonesia actually occurred in West Papua.
  • With regard to perpetrators of incidents described in the report, the police were involved in the vast majority, or  a total of 81.1 per cent of all incidents. Militia groups make up the second biggest group of perpetrators, with involvement in 10.3 per cent of all incidents, often outside of West Papua and targeting those exercising rights to freedom of assembly. Unknown actors have also contributed to almost 8.5 per cent of incidents this year, mainly  involved in the intimidation of media and human rights defenders (HRDs) and online attacks. Police and militia  have sometimes worked together when committing violations.
  • West Papuan Campaign groups, such as the Petisi Rakyat Papua (Papuan People’s Petition, PRP), the Komite Nasional Papua Barat (National Committee for West Papua, KNPB), Aliansi Mahasiswa Papua (Papuan Student Alliance, AMP) and the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), as well as other smaller groups, have borne the brunt of incidents, having been affected in 55.7 per cent of all incidents. They bore the brunt of all sorts of incidents, but particularly arbitrary arrests and dispersals. Students make up the second biggest group, affected by 23.6 per cent of all incidents, whilst civilians not in any other category make up the third largest at 8.5 per cent.

We can discern certain important trends from the data we have collected and analysed:

  • The continued heavy presence of the police in this report, a continuous phenomenon for as long as we have been covering these issues since the 2019 Papuan Uprising, belies a continued strategy and intolerance on their part to crack down on freedom of assembly and expression in West Papua and/or West Papuan-related activities. Their role in implementing unjust laws, a culture of impunity for abuses by security forces and acting in tandem with paramilitaries to intimidate continue to erode a climate of free expression on issues related to West Papua, and have a chilling impact on society and people wishing to exercise these rights. 
  • Increasing numbers of arrests continue to take place against those expressing their opinions on West Papuan related issues, both in terms of number of incidents and numbers actually that have been arrested, and represent a continuation of year-on-year increase after 2019. It has been a twin phenomenon, of increasing numbers of incidents of mass arrests, as well as targeted arrests of those in a leadership role within pro-independence organisations. 
  • The increasing prevalence of attacks on HRDs and media, as well as internet-related incidents, have been noted with concern. The Indonesian government, in only wishing to protect what it sees as ‘legitimate’ actors, has led to the criminalisation of HRDs and the media carrying out their role in holding those in power to account for their actions and their effects on human rights, and the climate of enabling this provides for non-state actors to attack and target activists and organisations carrying out this vital role.