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Jailing of Papuan anti-racism activists 'shock therapy' to deter activism

Kompas.com - June 18, 2020

Achmad Nasrudin Yahya, Jakarta – The panel of judges at the Balikpapan District Court in East Kalimantan found seven Papuan political prisoners guilty of treason during the sentence hearing which took place on Wednesday June 17.

Although the judges declared that the defendants had been proven guilty of committing the crime of makar (treason, subversion, rebellion), the sentences handed down were lighter than those demanded by the public prosecutor.

West Papua National Committee (KNPB) General Chairperson Agus Kossay for example was sentenced to 11 months in prison instead of the 15 years demanded by the prosecutor.

Following the ruling, the judges gave Kossay an opportunity to respond to the verdict.

"You have seven days to think about it", said presiding Judge Bambang Trenggono, who was assisted by Judges Bambang Setyo and Herlina Rayes at the sentence hearing on Wednesday.

The judges found the defendants guilty of makar over a demonstration in Jayapura which was protesting racist slurs against Papuan students in East Java in August 2019.

The judges declared that the defendants had been proven to have violated Article 106 of the Criminal Code (KUHP) in conjunction with Article 55 Paragraph (1) of the 1st KUHP on makar. They will also have to pay court costs of 5,000 rupiah.

All the sentences against the seven defendants were less than those demanded by the pubic prosecutor with United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) Deputy Chairperson Buchtar Tabuni being sentenced to 11 months in prison instead of the 17 years demanded by the prosecution.

Former Cendrawasih University Student Executive Council (BEM) Chairperson Fery Kombo was sentenced to 10 months instead of 10 years while Iranus Uropmabin and Hengky Hilapok received 10 months instead of five years.

Agus Kossay and KNPB Mimika Chairperson Stevanus Itlay were sentenced to 11 months in prison instead of 15 years while Jayapura University of Science and Technology (USTJ) President Alex Gobay received 10 months instead of the 10 years demanded by the prosecution.

Deplorable verdict

Indonesian Human Rights Watch (Imparsial) researcher Ardi Manto Adiputra has criticised the verdict which found the seven Papuans guilty of makar.

"We deplore the judges who still found the Papuan political prisoners (tapols) guilty, although [the sentences] were far lighter than those demanded by the public prosecutor", said Adiputra when contacted by Kompas.com on Wednesday June 17.

According to Adiputra, the defendant's actions cannot be categorised as an act of makar as specified in the indictment.

If they are confident that the seven defendants were proven to have committed makar, then everyone who participated in the protests against racism at the time could be subject to prosecution under the articles on makar.

"It is here that we say that the enforcement of the law against them was discriminatory from the start", said Adiputra.

On the other hand, Adiputra is of the view that there was an element of doubt in the judge's sentences which were lower than those demanded by the prosecutor.

Nevertheless, the judge's verdict still shows that there was racial bias against the seven defendants.

"Once again, racial bias in the guilty verdict against the seven political prisoners could be seen from the judge's ruling which should indeed have released them but instead handed down light sentences", he said.

Government feels threatened

Adiputra said that the central government feels threaten by the growing strengthen of the Papuan youth and student political movement.

It was as if the verdict was an attempt to provide shock therapy to Papuan youths and students, particularly those who are active in the movement demanding human rights justice in Papua.

On the other hand, Adiputra believes that the Balikpapan judges were seeking a compromise by handing down light sentences against the defendants, namely between 10 and 11 months in prison.

The sentences were far lower than those demanded earlier by the public prosecutor who wanted the defendants to be jailed for between five and 17 years.

"The judges were seeking a compromise with the light sentences. Bearing in mind the widespread demands for the seven defendants to be released both domestically as well as internationally", he said.

"Meanwhile the tendency of the current government is to punish those who are at odds with or disrupt the government's program", said Adiputra.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Vonis 7 Tapol Papua atas Kasus Makar yang Dinilai sebagai 'Shock Therapy'".]

Source: https://nasional.kompas.com/read/2020/06/18/11225861/vonis-7-tapol-papua-atas-kasus-makar-yang-dinilai-sebagai-shock-therapy