Jakarta. The woman behind last week's incident in Surabaya, East Java, which saw an angry mob besiege a boarding house occupied by Papuan students, and which later escalated into violent protests in several cities in Indonesia's two easternmost provinces, publicly apologized for her actions on Tuesday.
The trouble started on Saturday, when a crowd surrounded the boarding house in Jalan Kalasan, accusing the students of refusing to hoist the national flag for the Aug. 17 Independence Day celebrations because they supported Papuan separatism.
According to the Indonesian Civil Society Network, there were also members of the military in the crowd, which comprised various groups, including the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), right-wing paramilitary organization Pancasila Youth (PP), and the Communication Forum of Indonesian Veterans' Children (FKPPI), an association for families of retired members of the security forces.
The mob was led by FKPPI member Tri Susanti, who, in a video that went viral on the internet, accused the students of refusing to hoist the flag and dumping it in a ditch in front of their building. The students have denied the accusation.
Members of the crowd also refer to the Papuan students as "monkeys" in the video and tell them to leave Surabaya. This soon went viral on social media and sparked unrest in Papua and West Papua on Monday.
Papua Governor Lukas Enembe called on all Papuans to return home if the police fail to track down those responsible for the racist actions against the students in Surabaya, BeritaSatu TV reported.
He said prejudice against Papuans had been tolerated for too long and that it would continue if the perpetrators were not brought to book.
Mohammad Hafiz, executive director of the Human Rights Working Group, said the government must stop taking a security approach to dealing with every problem in Papua and West Papua.
"We must be honest and admit that the government and society have been treating the people of Papua as second-class citizens, discriminating against them, while they actually have the same rights as any other citizens," he told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday.
Protest rallies held in Manokwari and Sorong in West Papua on Monday in response to the weekend's events in East Java soon descended into riots. This prompted Tri Susanti to publicly apologize for the incident, on behalf of the people of Surabaya.
"Our main purpose [in surrounding the boarding house] was the flag, but the impact was like that [rioting in Papua]. On behalf of the people of Surabaya and the mass organizations [FPI, PP and FKPPI], I apologize for those of us who shouted that [racist slur]," she said.
Tri Susanti, who is also a member of Prabowo Subianto's opposition Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), was in the public spotlight earlier this year when she testified as a witness in support of his failed Constitutional Court challenge of the result of the April 17 presidential election.
Police have yet to name the suspects and the motive behind the events in Surabaya and Malang.