Jakarta – Amnesty International Indonesia is calling for the release of 13 South Maluku Republic (RMS) activists who were arrested for commemorating the anniversary of the separatist group. Aside from being inappropriate amid the corona virus pandemic, the arrests are a violation of freedom of expression.
"On Saturday, April 25, 2020, the Maluku Polda [regional police] arrested and detained 13 people who are South Maluku Republic activists because they raised the Benang Raja flag to commemorate the anniversary of the RMS movement", said Amnesty International Indonesia Director Usman Hamid in a press release on Monday April 27.
"The arrest and detention of the RMS activists for flying the flag was an arbitrary act and a violation of HAM [human rights]", he said.
This is because every individual without exception has the right to free expression and to assemble peacefully. This is guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
"Peaceful activities are part of the right to assembly and expression. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of both those who were arrested and who surrendered to police", said Hamid.
In addition to this, he continued, the detentions are not in accordance with the government's policy of cutting the number of prisoners in correctional institutions and jails in order to reduce the risk of the spread of Covid-19.
"The detentions are inconsistent with the government's policy of reducing the number of convicts and prisoners in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in jails", he said.
"The state must use an educative and persuasive approach so that the law provides a sense of justice to the public", he added.
Hamid said that every year the Benang Raja flag is flown to commemorate the RMS anniversary. But, he said, this does not necessarily represent separatism. For some, he said, this is just part of a tradition. For others, it's seen as a political protest.
"Flying this flag perhaps also represents a symbolic way to raise complaints about the central government's lack of seriousness in providing for the economic and social needs in the isolated area", he said.
"However, as long as it's done peacefully, the state is obliged to protect them", said Hamid. According to Hamid, the state often mistakenly sees this as a separatist movement and responds by applying the articles on makar (treason, subversion, rebellion).
"This is a error and was abandoned during the era of the [former president BJ] Habibie and Gus Dur [former president Abdurrahman Wahid] administrations. That was when the government and the DPR [Regional House of Representatives] abolished or revised the regulations on makar which often ended with human rights violations", said Hamid.
When contacted separately, the Maluku regional police confirmed that they had arrested three FKM leaders affiliated with the RMS.
They are Simon Viktor Taihittu (FKM/RMS spokesperson), Abner Litamahuputty (FKM/RMS homeland deputy chairperson) and Johanis Pattiasina (FKM/RMS homeland deputy secretary).
They have been indicted under Article 106 and 110 of the Criminal Code (KUHP) on makar and Article 160 of the KUHP on incitement. Meanwhile the other people who flew the RMS flag have been charged under Articles 106 and 110 of the KUHP.
"Three leading members of the RMS came to and were arrested at the Maluku Mapolda [regional police headquarters]", said Maluku Regional Police Public Relations Division Chief Senior Commissioner Roem Ohoirat on Monday.
On Saturday, the three activists went to the Maluku Regional Police Headquarters on their own initiative wrapped in a Benang Raja flag. The three people, said Ohoirat, were part of a group including 11 other RMS sympathisers who were summoned by police for questioning.
Earlier, continued Ohoirat, on April 21, 11 other RMS sympathisers from the Hulaliu village in the P. Haruku sub-district, Central Maluku regency, handed over a RMS flag and swore allegiance to the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI). (dis/arh)
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "13 Aktivis RMS Ditahan Saat Corona, Amnesty Sebut Langgar HAM".]