Rights groups demand end to Indonesian treason laws

Criminal Code provision is being used as a tool by the state to commit abuses against Papuans, they say
Rights groups demand end to Indonesian treason laws

Papuan students protest in Jakarta in 2019 against alleged violence and discrimination used against Papuans. (Photo courtesy of Amnesty International Indonesia)

Rights groups have urged Indonesia to resolve Papua’s problems through a humanitarian approach, not a military one, and to start by removing the article on treason from the Criminal Code.

The article is being used unjustly and indiscriminately to arrest and jail many people and as a tool to commit rights abuses, they say.

“A militaristic approach in Papua will not settle problems in the region because it victimizes local civilians,” the groups said in a joint statement on March 11.

The groups included the Kingmi Church Synod's justice and peace department in Papua, Amnesty International Indonesia and the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS).

They said the conflict between the military and armed separatist groups puts local people’s lives in danger. When activists speak out against such a situation, they are accused of treason and arrested.

“The government should remove the treason clause in the Criminal Code Law so that Papuans won't be arrested and jailed [arbitrarily],” they said.

According to Amnesty International, at least 77 prisoners of conscience are detained on treason charges in various cities in Papua and elsewhere in Indonesia, including 20 people under city arrest.

“President Joko Widodo must free all political prisoners,” they said.

Commenting on the Dutch king’s March 9-13 state visit to Indonesia, they said the treason and blasphemy articles in the Criminal Code were a legacy of Dutch colonial rule. “President Widodo and King Willem-Alexander should also discuss human rights issues including in Papua,” they said.

Yones Douw, chairman of Papuan Kingmi Church Synod Justice and Peace Department, said the Indonesian government is deploying more and more military and police personnel in Papua.

“The president must allow the UN Human Rights Council and special rapporteur to visit Papua,” Douw told UCA News.

Douw said the military should be withdrawn from and police scaled down in Papua to decrease violence in the region.

Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said human rights abuses are not only about violence but are also being committed as legal instruments against Papuan people. 

In 2018, an Amnesty International report accused security forces in Papua of committing 95 extrajudicial killings during 69 incidents from January 2010 to February 2018.

“None of these 69 incidents was subjected to a criminal investigation by an independent institution,” he said.

Mahfud MD, coordinating minister for politics, law and security, said there was no need to withdraw troops and denied using jackboot tactics to deal with unrest.

"We don’t use a military approach [to develop Papua] as this won’t settle any problem," Mahfud said.

The government is looking at economic development as the driving force to resolve problems in the region, he said.

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