Jakarta – Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on the Indonesian police to drop politically motivated treason charges against West Papua National Committee (KNPB) spokesperson Victor Yeimo.
Yeimo was arrested for calling for an independence referendum for Papua which he expressed in 2019 during the anti-racism protests and riots in Papua and West Papua provinces.
Human Rights Watch said that the Indonesian government has discriminated against indigenous Melanesians in Papua and West Papua for decades.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo is being asked to publically direct security forces involved in operations in Papua to act in accordance with international law to be held to account for violence there.
"Indonesian police should investigate the deadly violence and arson attacks in Papua in 2019 but not use that as a pretext to crack down on peaceful activists", said HRW Asia director Brad Adams in a statement on the group's official website on Wednesday May 12.
In August 2019, Papuans held protests in at least 30 cities across Indonesia in response to a racist attack against Papuans at a student dormitory in the East Java provincial capital of Surabaya.
Videos circulating on social media at the time showed soldiers shouting words such as "monkeys" at the students. Police also fired teargas into the dormitory and arrested scores of students.
The polemic over this triggered riots in the form of attacks, looting and the torching of public facilities in Jayapura, Manokwari, Sorong and Wamena.
In the aftermath of this, HRW noted that at least 43 Papuan protest leaders and KNPB activists were charged with treason and sentenced despite the fact that they were not involved in violence.
HRW stated that it takes no position on Papuan claims to self-determination, but supports everyone's right, including independence supporters, to express their political views peacefully without fear of arrest or other forms of reprisal.
"The Indonesian authorities should ensure that all security force operations in Papua are carried out in accordance with the law and that peaceful activists and other civilians are not targeted", added Adams.
Separately, lawyers from the Coalition for Upholding the Law and Human Rights in Papua said that Yeimo's arrest on Saturday May 9 was not in accordance with arrest procedures under Law Number 8/1981 on the Criminal Procedural Code.
This is because the arrest was made on May 9 while the warrant was only received by Coalition lawyers on May 10 at 6 pm at the Mobile Brigade Command Headquarters (Mako Brimob) investigators office in Kotaraja, Abepura, Jayapura.
"The coalition could not assist or directly accompany Victor F. Yeimo yet he is not just being charged under Article 106 of the Criminal Code (KUHP) or the articles on makar [treason, subversion, rebellion] but he is also charged under Article 170 Paragraph (1) of the KUHP where in the process lawyers can sit alongside their client", said the Coalition's litigation coordinator Emanuel Gobay in a press release.
Gobay also stated that they were prevented from assisting Yeimo because they were unable to directly accompany him. Yeimo was then transferred from the Papua regional police to the Mako Brimob without the Coalition's knowledge.
At the Mako Brimob meanwhile, Yeimo is said to have been placed in a cell far away from any sources of fresh air and is said to have asked prison guards to move him to a more comfortable cell.
Furthermore, Gobay revealed that his client also asked police why only he had been arrested if the pretext for the arrest was because he gave a speech during an anti-racism protest on August 19, 2019.
"Many other people also gave speeches (during the action) such as women figures, religious figures, youth figures and so forth. Aside from this [the action] was also attended by the Papuan provincial governor, the speaker of the MPR [Papua People's Council], members of the DPRP [Papuan Regional House of Representatives], several SKPD [Regional Administrative Work Unit] members as well as OAP [indigenous Papuans] and non-OAP. But why am I the only one that has been arrested and charged while the others haven't", said Yeimo as conveyed by Gobay.
Yeimo was arrested in Jayapura on Sunday May 9 at around 7.15 pm. Yeimo was a fugitive from the law who had been on the police's wanted persons list (DPO) since 2019.
He is alleged to have committed crimes against state security and makar and or broadcasting a report or issuing statements which could give rise to public unrest and or broadcasting news which is unreliable or news which is excessive or incomplete.
He is also alleged to have insulted the Indonesian national flag, language and state symbols as well as the national anthem and or incitement to commit a crime. (fey/wis)
Read the Human Rights Watch statement in English here: https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/05/12/indonesia-drop-charges-release-peaceful-papuan-activist
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "HRW Minta Polisi Cabut Tuduhan Makar Jubir KNPB Victor Yeimo".]