JAKARTA: Thousands of miles from the protests that have swept the United States, Black Lives Matter has become a rallying cry for pro-Papuan activists in Indonesia, provoking questions about accusations of deep-seated racism.
Indonesian social media users have adopted the hashtag #PapuanLivesMatter alongside #BlackLivesMatter and prominent writers and artists have promoted it, a sign that the issue resonates beyond Papuans in an archipelago of 270 million.
Accusations of discrimination have endured for decades in the resource-rich and remote provinces of Papua and West Papua, whose indigenous people are of dark-skinned Melanesian origin in contrast with most in the world’s fourth most populous nation.
“I think the BLM movement is useful in that it forces Indonesians to reflect on how Papuans have been treated by the police,” Ligia Judith Giay, a Papuan postgraduate student at Australia’s Murdoch University, told Reuters.
Parallels have been drawn between the death of African-American man George Floyd in Minnesota that unleashed the mass protests and the treatment of a Papuan man, Obby Kogoya, who was pinned down during his arrest in 2016 before he was jailed.
A website, “We need to talk about Papua”, has been set up, while an Instagram post about the site attracted more than 12,000 likes.
Representatives of the Indonesian president’s office and the foreign ministry did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment about the online movement or accusations of racism against Papuans.
In recent days, Black Lives Matter has also been a rallying cry for black people complaining of discrimination in Australia, Brazil and elsewhere.
Papua and West Papua came under Indonesian control after a United Nations-sanctioned vote in 1969 that Papuan activists say was held under duress. A low-level insurgency has persisted for decades.
Anger boiled over last year in protests that killed dozens after Papuan students in Java were allegedly taunted with racist slurs, such as “monkeys”.
Despite the online momentum, Indonesian political analyst Yohanes Sulaiman said local attitudes were unlikely to be swayed.
“There’s not much awareness from regular Indonesians that there’s racism towards Papuans,” he said. “Most Indonesians consider Papua a problem of separatism. That’s how the government has framed the issue for decades.”
But in the same way that Floyd’s death has catalysed a discussion of history and race in America, Black Lives Matter had inspired young people to ask questions, said Indonesian human rights activist Veronica Koman.
“There has been a huge rise in awareness among Indonesians outside our usual activist circle that I did not even see during the West Papua uprising last year,” she said.