15 Papuans face serious charges for peaceful demonstration

24 Jul 2009
The trial of fifteen Papuans, facing the charge of makar, was resumed yesterday in Nabire District Court. The accused, all men, are mostly students and farmers associated with the West Papua National Committee, an organisation that seeks independence from Indonesia.
The men were arrested on 6 April, after attending a pre-election rally and have been charged under Article 106 of the Criminal Code which carries a maximum penalty of twenty years for treason or subversion (makar).
Many Papuans are now serving heavy sentences after being found guilty of makar, simply for raising the Morning Star flag. Among them are Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, now serving sentences of fifteen and ten years respectively for raising a Morning Star flag in 2004. Earlier this month, Filep Karma was hospitalised after suffering respiratory problems.
The trial of the fifteen has been dogged since it commenced on 18 June by disputes between the judges and the defence team. Last week, the judges dismissed the defence counsel's complaint that the arrests did not conform with legal procedures. The lawyers also said that the men had not been given access to legal representation nor had they been given police documents relating to the charges until they appeared in court. Nor had those among the fifteen who do not speak Indonesian be given interpreters when questioned by the police.
TAPOL believes that criminalising the fifteen men who have been engaged in legitimate and peaceful activities is a violation of their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Carmel Budiardjo of TAPOL said: 'There is no justification to charge these men with makar, which could result in their being sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. The charges should be dropped and the men released.'
TAPOL also draws attention to other Papuans who have been arrested since October 2009 and faced with the charge of makar. Among them is Buchtar Tabuni who was arrested in December last year for organising a demonstration on 16 October that was held to welcome the launch in London of International Parliamentarians for West Papua. Initially charged with makar, Buchtar was sentenced to three years on 3 July for provocation, after the judge decided to drop the charge of makar.
The trial of another Papuan, Seby Sambom who was arrested along with Buchtar Tabuni, is still in progress. He too is being charged with makar. Earlier this week, TAPOL received a message from Seby, stressing the need for international support. His message which was headed 'Please Protect Us!', called among other things for Freedom from Torture and Maltreatment and Freedom to Fight for Human Rights and Against Discrimination.
Earlier this week, the Indonesian Government pushed for the establishment of a regional Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights at a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers, thus establishing its reputation as an advocate for rights codified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
However, despite their good intentions, Papuans are being criminalised for peaceful acts in support of freedom of expression. In 2007, a presidential regulation, PP No, 77, was enacted, making it a criminal offence for the Morning Star flag and the local flag in Maluku to be unfurled.
According to TAPOL, such contradictory actions suggest that while seeking to impress the international community regarding its commitment to upholding basic human rights, the Indonesian judicial system is subjecting Indonesian citizens in Papua to heavy-handed treatment in violation of international covenants that have won the support of the government. Moreover, Indonesia secured a seat in the UN Human Rights Council in 2006, further enhancing its international reputation.
TAPOL calls for an end to continuing violations of basic human rights in Papua. The Indonesian Government should make it crystal clear that these violations must stop. It also calls for the revocation of PP 77/2007. 'If Indonesia wants to be accepted worldwide as a country that respects basic human rights, it should stop levelling charges of makar against people involved in peaceful acts of expression in Papua, Maluku or anywhere else,' said Carmel Budiardjo of TAPOL.