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Rights group condemns Indonesian detention of pro-separatists

Human Rights Watch calls for immediate release of dozens of prisoners held over peaceful protests

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Rights group condemns Indonesian detention of pro-separatists

Papuan activists charged with treason attend a court hearing in Jakarta on Dec. 19, 2019. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Indonesian government to immediately release dozens of Papuan and Moluccan activists arrested in crackdowns against pro-independence supporters.

At least 70 activists in Maluku and Papua provinces were arrested for peacefully voicing their political views, the New York-based rights group said.

Between April 25-27, police in Maluku province arrested 23 activists who allegedly took part in events marking the 70th anniversary of a declaration of independence made by the South Maluku Republic (RMS), a separatist group.

Seven of those arrested face possible treason charges which carry a maximum life sentence, HRW said.

On April 24, the Central Jakarta District Court jailed six Papuans for treason after they staged a protest in August last year by raising the Morning Star flag — seen as a symbol of the Papuan independence movement — outside the presidential palace.

They are among 63 political prisoners from Papua province, according to the rights group. 

“Detaining and prosecuting Papuan and Moluccan activists for peacefully voicing their political views backtracks on the government’s commitments to free expression,” said Andreas Harsono, HRW’s senior Indonesia researcher.

“These activists should never have been imprisoned, and detaining them during the Covid-19 pandemic could be deadly.” 

According to HRW, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has set a precedent by pardoning and releasing five Papuan prisoners in May 2015. His administration has also gradually released nearly 100 political prisoners, mostly by reducing sentences, the rights group added.

“[The president] succeeded in releasing many political prisoners in his first five years in office,” Harsono said, adding his second term should not produce as many political prisoners as his predecessor. “These cases are a bitter betrayal of his government’s prior policy.”

Speaking to UCA News on May 5, Harsono said all political prisoners were in bad shape.

Emanuel Gobay, director of the Legal Aid Institute in Papua, called the laying of treason charges against such activists as a criminal act committed by the state. “They only used their rights to freedom of expression. What they did should have been guaranteed by the law,” he said.

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