Human Rights Watch urges Indonesia to free Papuan activists


A member of the Papuan Student Alliance (AMP) holds a Bintang Kejora (Morning Star) flag as he stands in front of dozens of police officers during a rally at the State Palace in Central Jakarta. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Indonesian authorities to drop all charges and release seven Papuan activists and students accused of treason for their involvement in antiracism protests in Jayapura, Papua, in August 2019.

HRW said in a statement on Thursday that the #BlackLivesMatter protests in the United States in recent years “have reverberated in Indonesia as Melanesian people, including ethnic Papuans and Moluccans, face racial discrimination from Indonesian authorities”.

“Papuan and Moluccan opposition to Indonesian rule and oppressive Indonesian military and police actions has often been met with further abuses,” the statement said. “Prosecutors should release these Papuan activists, who have suffered enough by being jailed for months far from home for peaceful acts of free expression.”

The HRW Asia director argued that the Indonesian police had created a revolving door by arresting Papuan activists for peaceful protests and this needed to stop.

“Indonesian authorities should recognize that given the global attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, sending peaceful activists to prison will only bring more international attention to human rights concerns in Papua,"

The statement comes as judges in a Balikpapan court in East Kalimantan are scheduled to issue verdicts in three separate trials of the seven activists this week. Last week, prosecutors at the Balikpapan district court demanded five to 17 years’ imprisonment for the defendants.

Police arrested the seven defendants, namely Buchtar Tabuni, Agus Kossay, Stevanus Itlay, Ferry Gombo, Alexander Gobai, Irwanus Uropmabin and Hengki Hilapok, in Jayapura in September. In October, the authorities transferred them more than 3,000 kilometers away to be tried in Balikpapan for “security reasons.”

The seven activists had been involved in massive antiracism protests in Jayapura that came in response to an incident where Papuan university students living in a dormitory in Surabaya, East Java, were subjected to physical and verbal attacks by security personnel and members of mass organizations, who accused the students of refusing to celebrate Indonesia’s 74th Independence Day.

Security personnel reportedly banged on the dormitory’s door while shouting insults referring to the students as monkeys, pigs and dogs.

The death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died while being arrested in the US, and the ensuing global outcry has sparked renewed public discourse about racism against Papuans in Indonesia.

Genocide Watch note: When Indonesia became independent from the Netherlands, Papua was not included. The Dutch provided that Papua was to hold a referendum on its future. Instead Indonesia invaded Papua and the vote was never held. The Papua independence movement has ignited an ongoing conflict between the Indonesian Government and the Free Papua Movement. The Indonesian Government is accused of conducting a genocidal campaign against the Papuan people.

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