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Jakarta Post

Protests demanding release of seven Papuan activists continue as verdict trials near

  • Budi Sutrisno and Dhoni Setiawan

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, June 15, 2020   /   07:06 pm
Protests demanding release of seven Papuan activists continue as verdict trials near Students and activists under the Committee for the Release of Papuan Political Prisoners protest in front of the Supreme Court building in Central Jakarta on June 15, 2020. They demand the authorities release the seven Papuan activists standing trial in the Balikpapan District Court in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan on treason charges. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

Protests took place simultaneously in several cities in Indonesia on Monday demanding that authorities drop all charges and release seven Papuan activists accused of treason at the Balikpapan District Court in East Kalimantan for their involvement in anti-racism protests in Jayapura, Papua last year.

In the capital city, dozens participated in a rally held in front of the Supreme Court building in Central Jakarta on Monday at around 1 p.m. The protestors were seen holding banners that read “Free 7 Papuan political prisoners without conditions” along with the hashtag #PapuanLivesMatter.

Based on The Jakarta Post’s observation, dozens of security personnel from the National Police and some from the Indonesian Military (TNI) were deployed to the scene, occasionally warning demonstrators through megaphones to obey health protocols.

Video footage posted on the Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua's (FRI-West Papua) Twitter account showed that newly released former political prisoners, including Surya Anta and Ariana Elopere, were also among the crowd.

Similar rallies took place in other cities including Balikpapan, Jayapura and Sorong in Papua, Bogor in West Java, Yogyakarta and Malang in East Java, Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman said.

“The protests are carried out concurrently today because the judges in Balikpapan [district court] will hand down the verdicts on Wednesday,” she told the Post.

Read also: Human Rights Watch urges authorities to free Papuan activists on trial for 2019 protests

The seven activists were involved in anti-racism protests in Jayapura in August last year following a racially charged incident involving Papuan university students living in a dormitory in Surabaya, East Java. The students were physically and verbally attacked by security personnel and members of local mass organizations, who accused them of refusing to celebrate Indonesia’s 74th Independence Day.

While the protests in Jayapura started out peacefully, they later turned violent, resulting in dozens of injuries and several buildings being damaged. The seven activists were arrested in Jayapura and were later moved to be tried in Balikpapan for security reasons.

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), as well as Agus Kossay and Stevanus Itlay of the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB).

They also include 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.

Read also: UI students file amicus brief on behalf of Papuan protesters charged with treason

They have undergone judicial proceedings since January and have faced trials since February this year, including online trials since April amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Prosecutors are seeking between five and 17 years of prison for the seven activists.

On Friday, Papuan interfaith leaders issued a statement to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, urging him to release the defendants unconditionally, saying that the state must be able to distinguish between treason and reaction to racism.

The statement was issued by 26 leaders of different religious organizations that included Christian and Catholic confederations and the Papua chapters of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the Indonesian Buddhist Union and Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia.

They observed that the legal process against the defendants was not procedural, citing arbitrary arrests and alleged intimidation that occurred during arrest. The leaders also slammed law enforcement for allegedly failing to uphold the principle of presumption of innocence during the investigation as well as the transfer of the defendants outside Papua.

“To uphold the truth and the values of justice in this country, we require that the state be present and play a serious role in resolving the problem of racism and upholding the law in a just and dignified manner,” the statement read.