Monday, February 6, 2012

Indonesia: Papuans Indicted for Treason

(Feb. 02, 2012) On January 30, 2012, the district court at Jayapura, the capital of the Indonesian province of Papua, indicted five activists from the province on charges of treason. (Indonesian Court Indicts Papuan Activists for Treason, THE JAKARTA GLOBE (Jan. 30, 2012).) They are accused of raising a flag and declaring independence for the province, which occupies most of the western half of the island of New Guinea; the eastern half of the island is the separate nation of Papua New Guinea. (Map of Papua Province, Indonesia, East-West Center website (last visited Jan. 30, 2012); for background on Papua, see Kelly Buchanan, Indonesia/Vanuatu: Vanuatu Parliament Passes Resolution on West Papua Independence, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (July 21, 2010).)

Those indicted include Forkorus Yaboisembut, who has declared himself President of Papua and who was one of the leaders of a peaceful demonstration of about 5,000 Papuans on October 19, 2011. His four co-defendants are Edison Waromi, August Makbrowen Senay, Dominikus Sorabut, and Selpius Bobii. (Indonesia: Rights Groups Urge Release of Papuan Activists, IRIN (Jan. 30, 2012).) If they are found guilty, the five could be sentenced to life in prison. According to local news reports, once the men declared independence for Papua, paramilitary police officers shot into the mass of rally participants and beat demonstrators with batons and their fists; these actions resulted in 90 injuries and at least three deaths. Eight police officers were given written warnings for their actions but were not otherwise disciplined. (Indonesia Court Indicts Papuan Activists for Treason, supra.)

Speaking for the non-governmental group Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson said of the indictments that "[i]t's appalling that a modern democratic nation like Indonesia continues to lock up people for organizing a demonstration and expressing controversial views." Human Rights Watch has called for the trial to be cancelled. (Indonesia: Rights Groups Urge Release of Papuan Activists, supra.)

On the other side of the issue, Judge Jack L. Oktovianus of the Jayapura District Court stated that "[t]he defendants jointly tried to commit treason with the intention of allowing the country or part of the country to fall into the hands of the enemy. … They acted together to declare Papua an independent region, which constitutes an act of treason." (Indonesia Court Indicts Papuan Activists for Treason, supra.)

Since Indonesia began administering the region in 1962, there have been numerous clashes between Indonesian authorities and local activists. Those arrested have been given long terms in prison. In one such case, Filep Karma, who has been championed as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, was given a sentence of 15 years of imprisonment for raising a pro-independence flag in 2004. (Filep Karma: Imprisoned for Raising a Flag, Amnesty International website (last visited Jan. 30, 2012). Disputes have also arisen over the use of force by Indonesian authorities in other parts of the country. (Constance A. Johnson, Indonesia: Human Rights Groups Denounce Use of Security Law, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Jan. 17, 2012).)

  • Author: Constance Johnson