Source: Dr David Robie – Café Pacific – Analysis-Reportage:
|A past protest in London demanding the release of Papuan political prisoners. Image: Survival International|
THE JAILING of the Jakarta Six – five Papuans and the first Indonesian to be convicted for a Papuan protest – in Indonesia last month has focused global attention on the plight of political prisoners in the face of a failing struggle against the coronavirus pandemic.
Already several analysts are warning that both Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are at risk of becoming coronavirus “failed states” and this will be of concern to Australia and New Zealand.
While Papua New Guinea has had only eight confirmed covid-19 cases so far – a spike is expected this month in spite of the state of emergency, Indonesia already has 10,843 cases with 831 deaths and the real toll is feared to be higher and climbing.
In Indonesia’s two Melanesian provinces of Papua and West Papua, the figures are reportedly 189 and 37 respectively with seven deaths overall and a new surge reported in the Mimika mining hub. Remote tribespeople have taken to setting up their own blockades to protect their villages.
“Countries with pre-existing conditions — poverty, limited healthcare, ineffective or corrupt governments — are fragile, and it is these countries that covid-19 is threatening to push to the brink of survival,” writes ABC’s foreign affairs correspondent Melissa Clarke.
She acknowledges those critics who suggest the United States has made a “solid start” for gaining such a dubious status, “but for the Australian government, the real concerns lie just to the north – Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.”
Human rights advocates and civil society groups are voicing their condemnation of Papuans being held in crowded and risky Indonesian jails for taking part in peaceful demonstrations and a “Free West Papuan political prisoners” campaign has gone viral on social media.
Political prisoners still held
ETAN – East Timor and Indonesian Action Network, founded in 1991 and one of the most active US non-profit groups campaigning for human rights across Southeast Asia and Oceania, says that while Indonesia “struggles to contain the spread of covid-19”, the government still holds anti-racism and pro-independence prisoners in jails across West Papua, Jakarta and Balikpapan.
|A Free West Papua Political Prisoners poster.
“In many cases, trials have continued against these political prisoners endangering the health of the prisoners, lawyers, judges and court staff,” ETAN says.
An urgent appeal to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and UN Special Rapporteurs was filed last month by advocate Jennifer Robinson and Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman, backed by the human rights organisation Tapol, on behalf of 63 political prisoners.
The legal papers demonstrate that all of the detainees are being “arbitrarily and unlawfully detained in violation of Indonesia’s international human rights obligations”.
The prisoners are 56 indigenous West Papuans, five Moluccans, One Indonesia, and one Polish citizen.
“While most of them are on remand and still awaiting trial, seven have been sentenced and others are currently on trials,” says Tapol.
“The great majority of the political prisoners – 56 – were arrested in the crackdown by Indonesian authorities during the mass political protest movement in support of West Papua last year – dubbed the “West Papua Uprising”.
Carrying, displaying flags
“The activities for which they have been detained range from simply carrying or displaying the West Papuan or Moluccan national flags, to participation in peaceful protests and being members of political organisations which support self-determination – all internationally protected activities.”
|The Jakarta Six (from left): Issay Wenda, Charles Kossay,
Arina Elopere, Surya Anta, Ambrosius Mulait and Dano Tabuni
– pictured on December 19, 2019. Image: Tempo/Antara
In its May Day message, ETAN condemned the conviction of the Jakarta Six for their “peaceful expression of their opposition to Indonesia’s heavy-handed rule in West Papua”.
“We call for the immediate release of these prisoners and other Papuans arrested for freedom of expression and for the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the terrible violence perpetrated on them.”
A panel of judges at the Central Jakarta District Court found the six activists guilty of treason on April 24 for holding a protest in support of Papuan independence in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta in last August.
The bench handed prison sentences to the activists – Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-West Papua) spokesperson Surya Anta and students Charles Kossay, Deno Tabuni, Isay Wenda, Ambrosius Mulait and Arina Elopere – during a virtual verdict hearing. All activists were handed a nine-month prison sentence (including jail time already served), except for Wenda who was punished with eight months’ imprisonment.
The defendants’ lawyer, Oky Wiratama, said she was disappointed with the verdicts and questioned the judicial process.
Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid said the treason charges might have been misused by the government against people who should never have been arrested or detained in the first place.
On August 16, the day before Indonesians celebrate independence, Papuan students in dormitories in East Java were targeted by students after rumours spread that the Papuans had “disrespected” the Indonesian flag.