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Democratic Indonesia still holds political prisoners

In this file photo, supporters of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) carry the coffin of Kelly Kwalik, prominent Papuan leader of the armed wing of the OPM, who was shot to death by Indonesian Mobile Brigade personnel in Timika, the capital of Mimika regency, Papua on Dec. 16, 2009. Some members of the OPM have now been detained by the Indonesian government relating to charges of treason. Markus Makur/The Jakarta Post

Publication Date : 10-08-2012


Selphius Bobii may have spent four months in Abepura Penitentiary in Papua of Indonesia on charges of treason after joining the third Papuan People’s Congress last October, but he remains convinced that he was not guilty of any crime.

According to Bobii, then leader of the United Front of West Papuan Fighters, what he and members of the organisation did amounted to an exercise of their political rights as Papuans, and the central government should have respected it.

"We held the congress peacefully and engaged in no criminal or violent activity," he said yesterday.

Bobii and six others were found guilty by the Jayapura District Court for violating Article 106 of the Criminal Code for an act of treason by holding the congress and declaring the independence of West Papua.

Before Bobii, dozens of other Papuan political activists had been imprisoned under Article 106 for various actions, ranging from the non-violent hoisting of the Papuan Morning Star flag to the decidedly more serious forceful entry into a police armoury.

Data from National Papua Solidarity (Napas) claims there are now 45 political prisoners held inside a number of penitentiaries, namely Abepura, Biak, Fak Fak, Nabire, Serui, Timika and Wamena.

Although international organisations like Amnesty International and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) categorise Bobii and his fellow activists as political prisoners, the Indonesian government considers them criminals.

"They were charged with acts of treason under articles in the Criminal Code, which means that they are criminals. However, some people consider them political prisoners as their actions were based on a political ideology," said Deputy Law and Human Rights Minister Denny Indrayana, acknowledging the contentious nature of the prisoners' status.

Following the downfall of the New Order regime in 1998, the government had unconditionally released "all" political prisoners, including individuals jailed since the 1965 anti-communist purges and political prisoners from Aceh and Timor Leste, who were arrested during the administration of former president Soeharto.

Because the Indonesian government does not recognise him as a political prisoner, prison guards treat Bobii and other Papuan activists the same as drug dealers, robbers or murderers.

Bobii said that some prisoners were in critical condition and prevented from accessing proper medical treatment.

Filep Karma, a 50-year-old convict who was sentenced to 15 years for raising the Morning Star flag in 2004, suffers from colon cancer but cannot get treatment in Jakarta until he receives government permission.

"We raised money for his medical treatment because he refused to pay them [the prison] but we are still negotiating for [authorisation for] him to go to Jakarta," he said.

Another prisoner, Ferdinand Pakage, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the murder of a police officer in March 2006, under what human rights activists describe as questionable circumstances, reportedly suffered the permanent loss of sight in his right eye and chronic acute headaches as a result of police brutality.

"[Pakage] Ferdinand's family and friends have gathered money for the treatment of his eye, but we can't get the permit for him to go out of the prison," Bobii said.

Napas coordinator Marthen Goo said that paying for the medical treatment should be the government's obligation. "However, officials say they don't have the money," Goo said, adding that if the government refused to take care of them while in prison, the prisoners should be released.

Bobii demanded that the government unconditionally release all political prisoners in Indonesia and start a democratic process in Papua.

"How can Indonesia call itself a democratic country if its government bans a very basic right of democracy — the freedom of expression?" Bobii said.

Neles Tebay, an activist with the Peaceful Papua Network, said that the fact that people were locked up for political reasons indicated that there was a political problem in Papua. He called on the government to release the prisoners. "After releasing the prisoners, then we can have a peaceful Jakarta-Papua dialogue," said Tebay.


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