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Indonesia: Six People Face Treason Charges over Papua Protests

Arie Firdaus
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A Papuan activist holds up a separatist “Morning Star” flag during a rally near the presidential palace in Jakarta, Aug. 22, 2019.
A Papuan activist holds up a separatist “Morning Star” flag during a rally near the presidential palace in Jakarta, Aug. 22, 2019.

Six activists who were detained after a rally demanding a referendum on self-determination for Indonesia’s Papua region could soon go on trial on charges of treason after police submitted their case files to prosecutors, their lawyers and families said Tuesday.

The activists have challenged their arrests in a separate pre-trial motion and will not drop it even though their files were submitted to the Central Jakarta prosecutor’s office on Monday, said Tigor Hutapea, a lawyer at the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH) who is representing them.

“After the submission of case files, the trial will usually begin in two weeks,” Hutapea told BenarNews.

The six activists – Surya Anta, Charles Kossay, Dano Tabuni, Isay Wenda, Ambrose Mulait and Arina Elopere – were detained at the Mobile Brigade police headquarters near Jakarta after being arrested in August. All but one of them are ethnic Papuans.

They have been charged with treason for allegedly raising the Morning Star separatist flag at a rally in Jakarta in August to demand a referendum on self-determination for Papua, amid unrest in the country’s easternmost region that was triggered by perceived ill treatment of Papuans on Java island.

More than 40 people were killed in the unrest between August and September in Papua and West Papua provinces, which make up the Indonesian half of New Guinea island.

Jakarta has blamed the separatist United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) and the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB) for the uprising that started in mid-August, when thousands joined protests calling for a vote on self-determination.

Police arrested dozens of pro-referendum Papuan activists in the wake of the unrest, which prompted authorities to send thousands of additional police and troops to the region.

A pre-trial hearing to challenge the arrests of the six activists had been scheduled for Nov. 11, but was postponed because the defendant – the Jakarta police – did not show up.

A new hearing is scheduled for Nov. 25, Hutapea said.

“In our opinion, the two-week delay is unusual because it can obstruct the justice process for the suspects,” he said. “The delay should have been just one week.”

Andreas Harsono, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said there were at least 25 political prisoners in Indonesia, including 22 who had been detained since the unrest in Papua in August.

“The government must release all political prisoners, because it will make it difficult for Indonesia in international forums. Many countries will question this, including the United States and Japan,” Andreas said.

Hutapea said the families of the Papuan activists had been having difficulty visiting them in detention.

Yumilda Kaciana, the wife of Dano Tabuni, said the police had twice cancelled an appointment she had made to visit her husband.

“Our disappointment grew when lawmakers from Papua were allowed to meet with the detainees, even though there was no appointment,” Yumilda told reporters.

“Why is there different treatment?” she said.

Another lawyer with the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, Oky Wiratama, said the police did not properly notify the defense attorneys and the activists’ families prior to the transfer of the case files to the prosecutor’s office, which usually signals that a trial is imminent.

“We were told only via a WhatsApp short message. We received it only on Sunday,” Oky said.

“There should be an official letter to inform about the transfer,” he said.

National police spokesman Argo Yowono denied that families and lawyers were prevented from visiting the detained activists.

“We work professionally and follow the rules,” Argo told BenarNews, adding that the police were ready to face a pretrial suit.

The Papua region was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969, after a U.N.-administered ballot known as the Act of Free Choice. Many Papuans and rights groups said the vote was a sham because it involved only 1,000 people.

The provinces of Papua and West Papua make up one-fifth of Indonesia’s land mass. Only 5.9 million of Indonesia’s 250 million people live there.

Tensions rose in Papua in December 2018 after separatist rebels allegedly killed 19 members of a crew building a highway in Nduga regency. Authorities immediately sent more than 750 soldiers and police to the region after the killings.

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