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Groups urge Indonesia to free Maluku political prisoners

Eight years after arrests, little hope in sight for peaceful protesters

Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta
Indonesia

June 30, 2015

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London-based Amnesty International and local rights groups have called on Indonesian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release political prisoners in Ambon, the provincial capital of Maluku, saying that they were imprisoned unjustly while peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Among the prisoners is Johan Teterissa, who was arrested on June 29, 2007, after he and 22 other activists took part in a peaceful rally in front of then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who was attending a government-organized ceremony for the National Family Day.

During the ceremony, Teterissa, who was a primary school teacher, led the other activists into the ceremonial area and performed a traditional war dance called a Cakalele in the presence of the then-president. At the end of the dance, the group — primarily teachers and farmers — unfurled a banned regional flag called the Benang Raja

“His release will be consistent with President Joko Widodo’s expressed commitment made in May to release all political prisoners in Indonesia,” Amnesty, the Maluku Union for Humanity (Humanum), and the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said in a joint statement Tuesday.

In mid-May, President Widodo granted clemency to five Papuan political prisoners during a trip to Papua. He had earlier visited Maluku, though he didn’t announce any clemency deals there. Residents in both provinces have long called for independence and an end to onerous and violent security restrictions imposed by the central government.

According to the rights groups, Teterissa and the other activists were tortured by police during their detention and interrogation. They were charged with makar, or rebellion, under articles 106 and 110 of the Criminal Code. Teterissa was initially sentenced to life imprisonment, but his punishment was reduced on appeal to 15 years.

“Eight years on, no independent investigation has been carried out into the allegations of torture and none of the police officers have been held to account,” the rights groups said.

In March 2009, Teterissa and dozens of other prisoners of conscience were transferred to prisons on Java Island.

“Our organizations also call on the authorities to transfer them to a prison closer to their families in Maluku, as they have requested, pending their release,” the rights groups added.

Yanes Balubun, coordinator of the legal and human rights advocacy desk at Humanum, said that under Indonesian law the Maluku political prisoners should have been allowed to express themselves peacefully without facing arrest or imprisonment.

“When the state punishes a citizen [for peaceful protest] by sending him or her to jail, this is a violation,” he told ucanews.com.  

Chrisbiantoro from Kontras said that all forms of expression delivered peacefully could be interpreted as a violation against sovereignty as long as Criminal Code articles were used for prosecution.

“We urge the government to clearly see the case. If an expression is delivered peacefully and without using guns or committing violence, the government should not use the articles. Instead, the government should prioritize a dialogue to find the root of the problem: why such expression continues to grow,” he told ucanews.com.

He also suggested that the government should review the articles. 

“Don’t just release all political prisoners. Review the articles which chain freedom of expression,” he said.

Samuel Weileruny of the Maluku Civil Community Advocacy Center supported the rights groups’ call, saying that “the Indonesian government, particularly President Widodo, should pay serious attention to their call”.

“We keep fighting for political prisoners to be granted amnesties as what they do is fight for the truth,” he told ucanews.com.

According to Weileruny, at least 24 pro-sovereignty activists from Maluku remain behind bars.

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