Rights monitors on Wednesday slammed police for last week’s arrest of five indigenous Papuans who stand accused of treason, saying the arrests painted a bleak portrait of freedom of expression in the archipelago’s easternmost province. Lawrence Mehue, Don Flassy, Mas John, Ebieb Suebu and Banundi Ones were arrested on April 14. Chrisbiantoro, deputy coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS), told ucanews.com Wednesday that the arrests took place after the men had traveled back to Papua following meetings in Jakarta with government officials. "While in Jakarta, they met with the Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu. During the meeting, they discussed the current problems in Papua," he said. The meeting, according to Chrisbiantoro, was facilitated by Heni Tan Fere of the National Unity and Politics office in Papua’s provincial government. "So they should not be arrested, because the meeting was facilitated by the government's own staff and carried out by government officials," he said. During the meeting, Minister Ryamizard requested that the central government and the community in Papua continue to build communication, Chrisbiantoro said. However, when the Papuans returned to their home province they were immediately arrested by Jayapura police and accused of violating Article 106 of the Criminal Code relating to the act of treason. The accused could face life imprisonment or a minimum 20-year sentence. The actions of the suspects leads us to believe they want “to secede from the unity of the Republic of Indonesia,” Patrige Renwerin, Papua Police spokesman, told ucanews.com. He added that police had seized evidence in the form of documents related to the meeting with the defense minister including a copy of the Federal Republic of West Papua’s (NRFPB) “declaration of independence” from Indonesia. The NRFPB movement was formed in 2011 during the Third Papuan People's Congress in Jayapura, where representatives read out a “declaration of independence” from Indonesia. However, Chrisbiantoro said it was not unusual for Papuan representatives to talk about the NRFPB with central government officials. "Previously, there are also Papuans who talked about the same thing with former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and President Joko Widodo," he said. Chrisbiantoro said the fact that the men were not arrested until they returned to their home province also raised suspicions about local police employing intimidation tactics against Papuans. "Why were they not arrested in Jakarta if they are accused of treason, but were arrested in Papua?" he said.
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Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said “it’s a shame that the Indonesian police cannot differentiate between free expression and criminal activities”. “The police have no reason to detain those five Papuan men,” he said. “They will become the laughing stock among law enforcement officers.” Natalis Pigai from the government body the National Commission for Human Rights said the charges against the men were spurious. "Political choice is a part of human rights," he said. "They had good intentions, [and] met with the government. They did not do violence.” Minister Ryamizard could not be reached for comment.