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West Papua: human rights groups demand release of 22 political prisoners and investigation of abuses

west papua's leading human rights group, els-ham, the institute for human rights study and advocacy and tapol, the indonesia human rights campaign in london, are today demanding the release of 22 prisoners imprisoned in wamena, west papua (irian jaya) for their political beliefs and their support for independence for west papua.
07 June 2001

West Papua's leading human rights group, ELS-HAM, the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy and TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign in London, are today demanding the release of 22 prisoners imprisoned in Wamena, West Papua (Irian Jaya) for their political beliefs and their support for independence for West Papua.

The organisations are also calling upon the Indonesian authorities to investigate and bring to justice police officers and other state officials responsible for a death in custody, human rights abuses inflicted on the prisoners, and atrocities committed in Wamena on the day the prisoners were detained.

A report compiled by ELS-HAM and TAPOL released today - Criminalising politics in West Papua - lists an appalling catalogue of abuses suffered by the prisoners while in detention and on trial, including torture and other forms of ill-treatment. It reveals that the police and judicial authorities committed flagrant breaches of Indonesian law and international standards applicable to detention and the right to a fair trial. The report casts serious doubt on the independence and impartiality of the presiding judges.

The 22 prisoners were arrested during and following a series of highly provocative operations by the Indonesian police in and around Wamena on 6 October 2000, which began when the police pulled down a number of West Papuan flags and brutally assaulted the flag-raisers. The prisoners include five members of the pro-independence Papuan Presidium Council and 17 others. The tragic events in Wamena that day resulted in the killing of 13 Papuans by the police and the subsequent killing of two dozen migrants seen as being in collusion with the police.

The prisoners were all found guilty of rebellion or attempting to separate part of the territory of the State of Indonesia and other lesser offences and were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from one to four-and-a-half years. On 12 June 2001, they filed an appeal against their sentences to the Indonesian Supreme Court. Their earlier appeal to the Irian Jaya High Court was dismissed.

The treatment of the prisoners is part of a concerted campaign by the Indonesian authorities to suppress legitimate independence aspirations, which has intensified since the recent deployment of additional security forces to the territory. The report shows that little has changed since the dark days of the Suharto regime:

"In Indonesia, supremacy of the law has for decades been overridden by the political interests of the state, particularly in places such as West Papua where the demand for self-determination is strong. This remains true three years after the fall of the Suharto and the coming to power of a democratically-elected president twenty months ago."

Soon after it took office, the Wahid government released all remaining political prisoners indicating that the detention and conviction of people for involvement in political activities would have no place in the post-Suharto Indonesia. The Government has now reversed that policy and is creating a new generation of political prisoners.

ELS-HAM and TAPOL fear that a similar fate awaits five other members of the Presidium Council, including its leader, Theys Eluay - also charged with rebellion - and four students in Jakarta charged under Indonesia's notorious 'hate sowing' articles with expressing hostility, hatred and contempt of the Government.

Five other pro-independence activists from the town of Fak-Fak are in prison and victims of arbitrary detention following a grossly unfair trial for weapons offences, which involved serious breaches of Indonesian law and international standards.

West Papua was incorporated into Indonesia following a fraudulent Act of Free Choice in 1969, which involved a hand-picked assembly of 1,025 persons voting under duress to become part of Indonesia. Since then violations of human rights have been widespread and tens of thousands have been killed. According to ELS-HAM, there have been 95 extra-judicial killings from July 1998 to May 2001, and the security forces have been responsible for 623 cases of arbitrary detention and torture.

The police operation to remove the West Papuan flag from Wamena was preceded by a campaign of intimidation against local people involving low-flying manoeuvres over the town by British Aerospace Hawk aircraft. The British Government was forced to intervene and insist on the withdrawal of the aircraft from West Papua after intense pressure from ELS-HAM and TAPOL.