Ahead of the verdict trial of seven Papuan prisoners of conscience (PoCs) in Balikpapan District Court on 17 June, Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid said:
“The charges against them are baseless. Buchtar Tabuni, Fery Kombo and their five co-accused are prisoners of conscience, persecuted solely for peacefully exercising their human rights. The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release them. They should also cease their deliberate targeting of people from Papua for peaceful acts, such as attending anti-racism demonstrations.
“Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience from Papua and Maluku — including political activists, human rights defenders, and others imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights. The charges against them directly contradict earlier pledges from President Joko Widodo about protecting the right to freedom of expression. It is high time the authorities lived up to those promises.
“Amnesty International also urges the government and legislative body to immediately repeal Articles 106 and 110 of Indonesia’s Criminal Code (KUHP) on treason. The treason articles are frequently misused by the Indonesian authorities to target individuals who should never have been arrested or detained in the first place.
“Given the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and the authorities’ own pledge to release many prisoners, the decision to charge these seven is a travesty.”
Prosecutors at the Balikpapan District Court, East Kalimantan, are seeking between 5 and 17 years imprisonment on treason charges for seven prisoners of conscience from Papua for their alleged involvement in antiracism protests Jayapura, Papua, in August 2019.
Four of the prisoners of conscience being tried are Fery Kombo, Alexander Gobai, Irwanus Uropmabin and Hengki Hilapok, all of whom are students in universities in Papua. The three others are Agus Kossay and Stevanus Itlay, both are facing 15 years in prison, and Buchtar Tabuni, who faces 17 years’ imprisonment.
The verdict trial of the seven is due to begin on 17 June 2020.
Buchtar Tabuni is an executive of pro-Papuan independence group United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), while Agus Kossay and Stevanus Itlay are from the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB).
All seven were arrested in Jayapura in September 2019 for joining peaceful antiracism protests in August 2019. These demonstrations were in response to an incident where Papuan university students living in a dormitory in Surabaya, East Java, were attacked verbally and physically by security personnel and members of mass organizations. The seven were later moved to a jail in Balikpapan for security reasons.
Arbitrary arrests by Indonesian authorities have meant that many Papuans are spending time in jail even though they have committed no crimes. As of 12 June 2020, Amnesty International Indonesia recorded 44 Papuan prisoners of conscience still behind bars. They are charged with treason even though they hold protests peacefully and did not commit any criminal acts.
Article 106 of the Criminal Code authorizes the courts to sentence a person “to life imprisonment or a maximum of twenty years imprisonment for makar with the intent to bring the territory of the state in whole or in part under foreign domination or to separate part thereof.” In addition, Article 110 provides that conspiracy to commit makar is punishable as a violation of Article 106. The Indonesian authorities have used these criminal code provisions to prosecute dozens of peaceful pro-independence political activists in Maluku and Papua over the last decade.
The arrest of seven Maluku activists who peacefully demonstrated in Ambon on 25 April 2020 also led to international attention. In just one month, the online petition run by Dutch section of Amnesty International gathered more than 25,000 signatures.
The restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression imposed under Articles 106 and 110 of the Criminal Code go far beyond the permissible restrictions allowed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Indonesia is a state party.
Amnesty International takes no position on the political status of any province of Indonesia, including on calls for independence. However, we campaign for the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to peacefully advocate for independence or any other political ideas that do not advocate hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. The organization acknowledges that there have clearly been incidents of violence committed by non-state actors in Papua recently, and recognizes that the Indonesian government can use the criminal law to address violent attacks. However, the government has consistently prosecuted peaceful activists for merely expressing their views.