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Indonesian court jails six Papuan activists for treason

Rights groups accuse authorities of trampling on freedom of expression after 'peaceful protest'

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Indonesian court jails six Papuan activists for treason

Papuans protest in Indonesian capital Jakarta on Aug. 29, 2019, against the arrest and alleged racial abuse of students in Surabaya, East Java province, several days earlier. (Photo supplied)

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A Jakarta court has jailed six Papuan activists after convicting them of treason for staging a protest outside the presidential palace in Jakarta calling for independence for Indonesia’s easternmost province.

Paulus Surya Anta Ginting, Charles Kossay, Ambrosius Mulait, Isay Wenda, Dano Tabuni and Arina Lokbere were arrested on Aug 28, 2019, for raising the Morning Star flag associated with the Papuan independence movement during the protest on Aug. 16.

The protest was against the arrest of several Papuan students who were allegedly subjected to racist abuse by police and a mob in Surabaya, East Java.  

Wenda was sentenced to eight months, while the five others received nine months in prison.

The ruling was condemned by rights groups.

“They did nothing but just join a peaceful protest, enjoying their rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said in a statement.

He said it was appalling that they have been in detention since last August 2019 awaiting a verdict on such blatantly abusive charges.

“The treason charge is being misused by the Indonesian authorities to target individuals who should never have been arrested or detained in the first place,” Hamid said. 

He called on authorities to free them by heeding a call from the United Nations to release political prisoners amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are rights protected under international law and Indonesia’s constitution,” Hamid said, adding that no one should suffer such treatment for attending a peaceful protest.

“It’s high time for Indonesia to stop criminalizing Papuans under treason provisions,” he told UCA News.

He said the last decade had seen an increase in pro-independence activities in Papua, particularly those led by students and young people who routinely organized mass demonstrations calling for self-determination through a referendum.

He said Amnesty takes no position on the political status of any province of Indonesia, including on calls for independence. 

“However, we uphold the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to peacefully advocate for independence or any other political ideas that do not advocate hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence,” he said.

The six are among 57 prisoners from Papua currently jailed for peacefully expressing their views, rights groups said.

Sacred Heart Father Ansel Amo, who heads the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission in Merauke Archdiocese in Papua, said peaceful anti-racism protests have to be respected. 

“We must oppose racism and respect freedom of expression,” he told UCA News. “Dialogue is desperately needed. If the root of the problem is not resolved, human rights abuses will continue to happen.” 

Many Papuans seek independence, claiming Indonesia took control of the region after a sham referendum in 1969. A low-level insurgency has plagued the region ever since.

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