The University of Indonesia (UI) has issued a statement disavowing a public discussion held by the university’s Student Executive Body (BEM UI) about racism against Papuans in the legal system, saying that the discussion did not “reflect the views and attitudes of UI as an institution”.
Held on Saturday and titled #PapuanLivesMatter: Racism in the Legal System in Papua, the discussion largely revolved around the prosecution of seven Papuan activists charged with treason for their involvement in antiracism protests in Jayapura, Papua, in August 2019. Last week, prosecutors at the Balikpapan district court in East Kalimantan demanded five to 17 years’ imprisonment for the defendants.
The defendants’ legal team and human rights groups have criticized the trial and claim the seven Papuans are being persecuted for their political activism.
Former Papuan prisoner Sayang Mandabayan, Papuan human rights lawyer Gustaf Kawer, and Amnesty International Australia and Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman were invited as speakers for the discussion.
“The country should not be afraid to have a discussion with Papuans. Ask us, listen to us,” Sayang said. “I am proud to be a Papuan woman who was prosecuted for defending my dignity.”
Veronica also urged university students to stand in solidarity with the seven Papuan activists.
“If not, they [the authorities] will come for you,” she said. “Next time, if you hold a student demonstration, they might say that you’re committing treason.”
In UI’s statement dated June 6, university spokesperson Amelita Lusia said BEM UI had organized the discussion “without proper preparation and consideration”.
She claimed the discussion featured “inappropriate speakers” and did not have a “strong enough” scientific foundation to be called a proper academic discussion.
UI’s statement drew criticism on social media, with many saying that the state university — widely considered the best in the country — was bowing to political pressures and had failed to stand up for academic freedom.
“If by ‘inappropriate speaker’ you’re referring to me, you should mention my name so that people won’t assume that it’s directed to the Papuan speakers in the discussion,” Veronica wrote on her Twitter account on Sunday. “No one knows more about Papua than the Papuans themselves.”
Tunduk di bawah tekanan silakan, tapi jangan sakiti perasaan masyarakat Papua.— Veronica Koman (@VeronicaKoman) June 7, 2020
Kalau “pembicara yang tidak layak” itu maksudnya saya, sebut nama saya, supaya tidak disangka sebagai narsum 2 orang Papua lain.
Tidak ada yang lebih ahli tentang Papua selain orang Papua itu sendiri https://t.co/YJfdnyOT0x
Last year, the East Java Police named Veronica a suspect for allegedly violating four different laws, including the 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law, through her tweets about a racial abuse incident against Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java, and the antiracism protests that ensued.
Veronica’s Indonesian passport has since been revoked and she is currently residing in Australia in exile.
Several UI students and alumni also condemned the statement.
“I’ve never been so embarrassed about being an UI student,” wrote Twitter user @Jasmineusfr.
I've never been so embarassed being an UI student pic.twitter.com/3jIxjEd82N— Jasmine Umi Safira (@Jasmineusfr) June 7, 2020
“It seems like the academic standard has been put in the same position as ‘abiding by the law in Indonesia’. So, if it was not in line with the law, then it would be less academic,” academic Lailatul Fitriyah wrote on her Twitter account.
Soal surat dr univ yg mengecam kegiatan diskusi akademik itu: Baca suratnya, sepertinya standar akademik disejajarkan/malah disamakan dg 'mematuhi ketentuan hukum di Indonesia'. Jadi kalo dianggap tdk mematuhi ketentuan negara, unsur akademiknya berkurang/malah hilang...— Laily Fitry (@MahameruLee) June 7, 2020
“In fact, there should be only two pillars in academic standards: truth and benefits for humanity.”
The death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died while being arrested in the United States, and the ensuing global outcry have sparked renewed public discourse about racism against Papuans in Indonesia.