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Arrests continue in West Papua with police charging three peaceful independence activists with treason

16 June 2023
 KNPB Tambrauw


The Indonesian government continues to tread on the right to peaceful free expression in West Papua. This can be seen from arrests and treason charges against three members of the peaceful independence campaign group, the National Committee for West Papua (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB), in Tambrauw Regency, Southwest Papua province.

The arrests took place on Friday 9th June 2023, in Sarwom Village, where 19 people were taken into custody. Those arrested were a mixture of members of the coordinating body for the KNPB from neighbouring Maybrat regency, as well as local members.

The head of West Papua area police, claimed that those arrested had been proclaiming the founding of the KNPB in Tambrauw, and calling for the independence of West Papua from Indonesia. Police also claimed that the group put up a fight, being arrested with TNI support.

However, activist groups stated that they were actually only eating food and drinking coffee together without disturbing anybody in the local area, when the police arrived with weapons. Activist groups also fiercely denied the police insinuation that the KNPB has links to the West Papua National Liberation Army- Free Papua Movement (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional Papua Barat - Organisasi Papua Merdeka (TPNPB-OPM).

A police spokesperson also claimed that the KNPB was illegitimate as it was not registered with the State’s Body of National and Political Unity (Badan Kesatuan Bangsa dan Politik (Kesbangpol)). The spokesperson cited this as a reason for questioning those arrested over possible involvement in the Kisor attack in 2021 (cases we have monitored relating to this incident have been the Sorong Six and LK, a minor. We did a video series explaining the incident).

The three who remained in prison and were charged with treason under Article 106 of the Criminal Code include Urbanus Kamat, Secretary General of KNPB Maybrat. This charge puts them at risk of a maximum sentence of life in prison.  

The criminalisation of West Papuan campaign groups has been seen time and again, despite the peaceful nature of their activities. The view from police is that the KNPB represents an “illegitimate” organisation, due to its pro-independence views. As seen in this case, there is a desire to link those targeted by police to pro-independence armed groups. But people peacefully expressing opinions should never be subject to charges or convicted of treason, which under Indonesia’s own laws, only relate to committing acts of violence.

TAPOL calls for:

  • The immediate release of the three KNPB members.
  • Removal of the articles of treason from the Indonesian Criminal Code, which have historically been used to clamp down on free expression in Indonesia, and continue to be used for the same purposes in West Papua.
  • The Police and TNI to stop discrediting and making insinuations against the KNPB and their right to peacefully express their opinions, by claiming criminality or links to the TPNPB without evidence.