Racial discrimination sparks protests in Indonesia’s restive West Papua province

Indonesia’s Minister for Security will today decide whether to lift an internet blackout in the restive province of West Papua.

indonesia west papua protests

Photo: Andrew Gal/NurPhoto/Getty

Indonesia’s Minister for Security will today decide whether to lift an internet blackout in the restive province of West Papua.

Protests broke out in West Papua on August 19 after a group of indigenous Papuans reportedly suffered racial abuse by government forces on Indonesia’s Independence Day. Up to seven people, including a soldier, have died and dozens of protesters have been arrested. While originally calling for an end to discrimination, protesters are now demanding an independence referendum be held.

West Papua is unlikely to be granted independence, primarily for economic reasons. The region contains considerable natural resources, including gold, copper, timber and natural gas. Most notably, West Papua houses the Grasberg Mine—the world’s largest gold mine and second largest copper mine—which is estimated to contain some $40 billion worth of minerals.

Politically, there are other separatist movements in Indonesia, most notably in the western province of Aceh, so granting independence to West Papua would set a dangerous precedent.

While tensions are unlikely to ever fully dissipate, Jakarta could look to soften the protests by making small concessions, like vowing to address discrimination. Alternatively, a heavy-handed response may eventually silence the protests but would inevitably spark further violence and may draw international condemnation, which has so far been muted.

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