Indonesia opened the trial of five pro-independence activists on makar (treason) charges in the West Papua capital of Jayapura Jan. 31—amid protests from international human rights groups. The charges stem from the Oct. 19 incident in which security forces violently broke up a three-day Papuan People’s Congress gathering in Jayapura, killing three and injuring some 90 more. Following the incident, eight police officers, including the Jayapura police chief, were given written warnings for committing a disciplinary infraction by not giving priority to the protection of civilians. No other action was taken against police or military personnel for possible misuse of force. But five of the activists—Forkorus Yaboisembut, Edison Waromi, August Makbrowen Senay, Dominikus Sorabut, and Selpius Bobii—were charged with treason under article 106 of the Indonesian Criminal Code and have been held in police detention since the October incident. Another Papuan, Gat Wenda, a member of the Penjaga Tanah Papua, or Pepta (Papua Land Guard), which provided security at the Congress, will be tried separately on charges of possessing a sharp weapon.
“The Indonesian government should show its commitment to peaceful expression by dropping the charges against these five Papuan activists,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s appalling that a modern democratic nation like Indonesia continues to lock up people for organizing a demonstration and expressing controversial views.”
At least 15 Papuans have been convicted of treason for peaceful political activities. They include Filep Karma, a civil servant who has been imprisoned since December 2004. About 60 other people throughout Indonesia are also imprisoned on charges related to peaceful acts of free expression, according to Human Rights Watch. The group renewed its call for the Indonesian government to release all political prisoners and allow human rights organizations and foreign journalists unimpeded access to visit Papua. (HRW, Jan. 29)
See our last post on West Papua.