Skip to main content

Indonesia: Free the West Papuan Political Prisoners

11 June, 2020

Join TAPOL and ETAN in a LIVE WEBINAR exploring the consequences of a racist justice system for political activists in West Papua. Please see the invitation attached for details about how to join!

About the Webinar

The anti-racism movement is sweeping across the globe, inspired by Black Lives Matter in the United States. The activism has resonated in Indonesia with the emergence of the Papuan Lives Matter movement. Both the current uprising in Minneapolis and in West Papua last year were triggered by recorded incidents of racist police violence.

Last week Indonesian prosecutors demanded outrageous sentences of five to seventeen years for seven high-profile West Papuan political prisoners detained in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan (Borneo). These activists were arrested during the West Papua Uprising last year when tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against racism and for self-determination. In contrast, the Indonesian military and police which committed the racist attacks against West Papuan students, triggering the Uprising, were not punished at all. Only three Indonesian civilians were sentenced to 5 to 10 months jail.

This is yet another display of systemic racism that West Papuans have to endure under Indonesian rule. President Joko Widodo released five West Papuan political prisoners at the beginning of his first term, but now, in his second term, there are still 46 indigenous West Papuan political prisoners who have been detained on treason charges. This Webinar is to call for the immediate and unconditional release of these political prisoners, particularly the seven currently detained in Balikpapan.

The 2019 West Papua Uprising

An unprecedented protest movement swept across West Papua and Indonesia in 2019, from 19 August to 23 September, with tens of thousands taking to the streets to protest against racism and for self-determination. It has become known as the “West Papua Uprising”, marking the most significant mass movement opposing Indonesian rule in West Papua in more than a decade. The Uprising is notable for the involvement of Indonesians across the country protesting in support of West Papuans.

The protests were sparked by Indonesian military personnel and ultra-nationalist groups racially abusing indigenous West Papuan students outside their dormitory in Surabaya on 17 August 2019. “Monkey” has since been reclaimed and used as a resistance symbol by the movement. The video of the harassment was shared widely on social media, and led to demonstrations in at least 30 cities across Indonesia and West Papua. The protests called for an end to racism and for the independence of West Papua, with demonstrators waving the banned Morning Star Flag across cities, towns and villages.

Despite the vast majority of the protests being peaceful, some turned violent with damage to public facilities, government buildings, stores and homes.

In response to this, the Indonesian government implemented an extreme crackdown, blocking internet access and deploying more than 10,000 security personnel to West Papua. Human rights groups have found that at least 61 residents, demonstrators and police were killed during the Uprising. In addition, more than 100 indigenous West Papuans were arbitrarily arrested. Last week, the State Administrative Court in Jakarta ruled that the government’s internet shutdown was unlawful.

West Papuan political prisoners

In the wake of the West Papua Uprising, 56 people were arbitrarily detained on treason charges. Ten of them have since been released after serving their full sentences, ranging from eight to nine months jail.

All are peaceful activists who have been detained for political expression -- simply carrying flags, organizing or participating in peaceful protests, posting opinions on social media, or merely for being members of political organizations. 

Prosecutors are now seeking extreme jail time against seven key leaders of the movement, due to be sentenced next week. In violation of Indonesian law, they were transferred from West Papua to Borneo on the basis of “security reasons” in October 2019. They were all arrested without any warrants.

  • Buchtar Tabuni (17 years): Member of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) Council Committee and the current Chair of the National Parliament of West Papua. This is his third time being imprisoned for his political beliefs.

  • Agus Kossay (15 years): Chair of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), the largest grassroots political movement in West Papua.

  • Stevanus Itlay (15 years): Chair of KNPB in Timika, this is his third time being imprisoned for his political beliefs.

  • Ferry Gombo (10 years): Head of the student association of UNCEN, the biggest public university in West Papua.

  • Alexander Gobai (10 years): Head of the university student association of USTJ.

  • Hengky Hilapok (5 years): A university student, his role in the protest was monitoring security.

  • Irwanus Uropmabin (5 years): A university student, was responsible for hiring the sound system and cars used for the protest.


TAPOL ( campaigns for human rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia. We are based in the UK and work to raise awareness of human rights issues in Indonesia, including in the contested territory of West Papua. Founded on grassroots campaigning, TAPOL works closely with local organisations in Indonesia to advocate for truth and justice and encourage the international community to take action.

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN, is a U.S.-based grassroots organization working in solidarity with the peoples of Timor-Leste (East Timor), West Papua and Indonesia. It continues to pursue justice for past and ongoing human rights violations by Indonesia, including accountability for U.S. involvement.