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Jakarta Post

Imprisoned Papuan activists denied early release in govt's pandemic-related program

  • Moch. Fiqih Prawira Adjie

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, May 14, 2020   /   09:22 am
Imprisoned Papuan activists denied early release in govt's pandemic-related program Papuan students grouped under the Papuan Student Alliance (AMP) stage a rally to commemorate Dec. 1, the day pro-independence activists declare as Papuan independence day, in Yogyakarta on Dec. 1, 2019. (JP/Bambang Muryanto)

Five Papuan activists imprisoned for treason are not eligible for early release, as part of the government’s prisoner assimilation program, which aims to reduce COVID-19 transmission, a legal team has revealed.

The government deems the assimilation program necessary due to overcrowded prisons during the health crisis.

However, the activists’ legal team claimed prison officials said those who committed “crimes against state security” were not eligible for early release and that granting them an early release would violate Government Regulation No. 99/2012 on correctional procedures. 

The prisoners, namely Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-West Papua) spokesperson Surya Anta and students Charles Kossay, Deno Tabuni, Ambrosius Mulait and Arina Elopere, were each sentenced to nine months in jail on April 24 for treason, while another student, Isay Wenda, was sentenced to eight months in the same case.

Five prisoners, aside from Isay, who has been released, are to be released on May 26. The prisoners have been incarcerated respectively at Salemba prison in Central Jakarta and the Pondok Bambu women's detention center in East Jakarta since August last year.

Under parole arrangements, the five activists were to be released 13 days early, on Tuesday.

Read also: Prisons less overcrowded thanks to early release of inmates over COVID-19

However, the activists’ advocacy team head, Mike Himan, said the early release did not happen, despite having met parole requirements and submitting the necessary files to authorities. 

“The political prisoners, who had gathered their belongings and were waiting to be released, were called back to the registration section at 2 p.m. to be told that they would not be granted an early release,” Mike said in a statement on Tuesday.

He went on to say that the sudden cancellation was an act of discrimination and urged the Indonesian Ombudsman and the National Commission on Human Rights to demand that the prisoners be released “for humanitarian and safety reasons”.

The Law and Human Rights Ministry’s correctional director general has not responded to The Jakarta Post’s request to confirm the matter.

The six Papuan activists were sentenced and imprisoned for staging a protest in support of Papuan independence and raising the Morning Star flag in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta last August.

Under the COVID-19 assimilation program, the ministry has released 37,014 convicts and 2,259 child detainees as of May 10, with the government planning to release a total of 50,000 prisoners.

Read also: 'Political prisoners' turn to UN amid COVID-19 threat

The ministry has announced that 24 prisoners and two prison officials at the Pondok Bambu women’s detention center had tested positive of COVID-19 after rapid testing, adding that 12 of them were awaiting the results of polymerase chain reaction tests. 

Previously, the ministry’s correctional director general, Reynhard Silitonga,  said an official at Salemba prison had contracted COVID-19 but had since recovered.