Prosecutors at the Balikpapan district court in East Kalimantan are seeking between five and 17 years of prison for seven Papuans charged with treason for their involvement in antiracism protests Jayapura, Papua, in August 2019.
The protests came in response to an incident where Papuan university students living in a dormitory in Surabaya, East Java, were attacked verbally and physically 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 words such as “monkeys”, “pigs” and “dogs”.
The seven defendants in the trial in Balikpapan include Buchtar Tabuni, an executive of pro-Papuan independence group United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), Agus Kossay and Stevanus Itlay from the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB), Jayapura University of Science and Technology (USTJ) student union head Alexander Gobai, Cenderawasih University student union head Ferry Gombo and USTJ students Irwanus Uropmabin and Hengki Hilapok. They were arrested in Jayapura in September and were later moved to a Balikpapan jail for security reasons.
Last week, prosecutors demanded a 17-year sentence for Buchtar, 15 years for Agus and Stevanus, 10 years for Alexander and Ferry and five years for Irwanus and Hengki.
The defendants’ legal team and human rights groups have criticized the proceedings and have said that the seven Papuans are being persecuted for their political activism.
Emanuel Gobay, one of the defendants’ lawyers, said there were many obstacles during the online court hearing for the seven Papuan activists.
“[The trial] had many issues, including internet instability, bad voice reception, different preparation times between the prosecutors and the defendants, the prosecution’s expert witnesses testifying out of line with their expertise and other issues that we fear will violate the rights of the defendants,” Emanuel said in a written statement obtained by The Jakarta Post.
He also criticized the inconsistency between the sentences sought for the seven defendants and those sought for defendants in other regions facing similar charges.
In April, for example, prosecutors sought 17-month sentences for pro-Papuan independence activists who staged a rally in Jakarta. The six activists were found guilty and received sentences ranging from eight to nine months.
Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) lawyer Tigor Hutapea, who oversees cases of human rights violations in Papua, said that the harsher sentences sought for the seven activists were a result of their involvement in Papuan political movements.
“The three of them were assigned greater [targeted] punishments not only because they were involved in the protest but also because they are involved in Papuan political organizations, when in fact, the right to join organizations is guaranteed by our constitution,” he told the Post on Sunday.
Tigor, who has been following the trial, questioned the entire trial process as “witnesses mostly came from police personnel [...] who did not directly witness the involvement of the seven activists in the riots.”
In an online discussion organized by the University of Indonesia student association about racism against Papuans in the legal system on Saturday, Amnesty International Australia and Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman urged university students to stand in solidarity with the seven Papuan activists.
“If not, they will come for you,” she said. “Next time if you hold a student demonstration, they might say that you’re committing treason."