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Jakarta Post

Churches union conveys 'deep concerns' over handling of 7 Papuan protesters

  • Moch. Fiqih Prawira Adjie

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, June 13, 2020   /   04:09 pm
Churches union conveys 'deep concerns' over handling of 7 Papuan protesters One of seven defendants of alleged treason sits at a hearing at the Balikpapan District Court in February. (Tribun kaltim/Miftah Aulia Anggraini)

The Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) has released a statement, conveying "deep concerns" over the handling of seven Papuan protesters who face treason charges at the Balikpapan District Court in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan.

“[We express our] deep concerns over the handling of demonstration cases that do not prioritize a cultural approach and humanitarian dialogue. The criminalization of young people that has led to the current judicial process will increasingly trigger distrust among the Papuan people in the process of law enforcement in Indonesia,” PGI spokesperson Irma Riana Simanjuntak wrote in the statement.

The seven defendants on trial are Buchtar Tabuni, an executive of pro-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 Gobay, Cenderawasih University student union head Ferry Gombo and USTJ students Irwanus Uropmabin and Hengki Hilapok. 

Read also: Human rights watch urges authorities to free Papuan activists on trial for 2019 protests

They were involved in a wave of antiracism protests that swept Jayapura, Papua, in August 2019. The seven were arrested in Jayapura in September and were later moved to a Balikpapan jail for security reasons.

The August protests were sparked by an incident in which 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 had 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.

Read also: Prosecutors seek up to 17 years for Papuan protesters accused of treason

The PGI has raised concern over the prosecutors’ plan to seek five to 17 years of imprisonment for the students, deeming it "far from fair and appropriate". Irma contrasted the sought punishment with the sentence received by Syamsul Arifin, who had been sentenced to five months of imprisonment for hate speech and racial slur in Surabaya. The prosecutors had demanded eight months of imprisonment for Syamsul.

“We pray that the panel of judges get wisdom from the Almighty to consider the background of the defendants that were dragged into this case,” Irma said. “[Because they are] fighting to defend the dignity of Papuans against racism done to the students in Surabaya.”

Irma also urged the government and Papuans to avoid violence and instead use civil discussion to solve problems and promote peace in the country’s easternmost region.