Govt Urged to Free Papuan ‘Political Prisoners’

JAKARTA ~ An international rights group called on the government this week to release all Papuan political prisoners jailed for peacefully expressing their support for independence for the region.

Human Rights Watch said at least 18 people were serving sentences of up to 20 years in jail for nonviolent acts such as raising a Papuan flag or attending peaceful meetings to discuss self-determination.

The New York-based group added it had not included “many other cases” where defendants allegedly used or advocated violence.

Indonesia won sovereignty over Papua, formerly a Dutch colony in the western half of the island of New Guinea, in 1969 after a referendum widely seen as a sham.

A poorly armed separatist group, the Free Papua Organization, has conducted a low-profile armed resistance since before Indonesia took over.

“A low-level armed separatist insurgency in the province has resulted in a large military presence and a climate of mutual suspicion and fear,” the rights group said.

Its report is titled Protest and Punishment: Political Prisoners in Papua.

“All too often, Papuans not involved in the armed insurgency are caught up in anti-separatist sweeps or arrested as troublemakers for peacefully expressing their political views, a right protected by basic international free speech guarantees,” it said.

The authorities commonly used colonial era laws, which criminalize “public expression of feelings of hostility, hatred or contempt toward the government,” and a law against rebellion to target activists, Human Rights Watch said.

“To the extent individuals are arrested and imprisoned for peaceful participation in symbolic flag-raising ceremonies, such treatment constitutes arbitrary arrest and detention in violation of international standards,” it said.

The report detailed the cases of two independence supporters – Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage – who in May 2005 were sentenced respectively to 15 and 10 years in jail for “spreading hatred and rebellion.”

Human Rights Watch said they had just been “organizing peaceful celebrations and flying the Morning Star flag in the provincial capital of Jayapura on December 1, 2004.”

Papuan nationalists have designated December 1 as their “national day” to commemorate the day in 1961 when a group of Papuans first raised the Morning Star.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to release all persons detained or imprisoned for peacefully expressing their political views, including by raising the flag.

It also recommended that the laws be amended or repealed and that the government end restrictions on access to Papua for journalists, diplomats and human rights organizations.

Papuans have long accused the Indonesian military of violating human rights in the province and complain that the bulk of earnings from its rich natural resources flow to Jakarta.

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