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Papuan protesters sentenced to less than one year for treason amid calls to drop charges

Jakarta Post - June 17, 2020

Budi Sutrisno, Jakarta – A court in East Kalimantan found seven Papuans guilty of treason in separate trials on Wednesday for their involvement in antiracism protests in Jayapura, Papua, in 2019, despite calls from human rights defenders for authorities to drop all charges against them.

The Balikpapan District Court sentenced Buchtar Tabuni, an executive of pro-Papuan independence group United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), to 11 months of imprisonment.

Meanwhile, Cenderawasih University student union head Ferry Gombo as well as Irwanus Uropmabin and Hengki Hilapok, both students of the University of Science and Technology (USTJ), were sentenced to 10 months in prison.

The punishment handed down by the court was far from the demands of prosecutors, who sought 17 years of imprisonment for Buchtar, 10 years for Ferry and 5 years for both Irwanus and Hengki.

Two other defendants in the case, namely Agus Kossay and Stevanus Itlay from the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB), were sentenced to 11 months of imprisonment after prosecutors had demanded 15 years.

Meanwhile, USTJ student union head Alexander Gobai was sentenced to 10 months in prison. The prosecutors had sought 10 years of imprisonment for him.

"We are given a week to think about whether we will file an appeal or not. We will discuss further with the seven political prisoners and figure out if they can accept [the verdicts]," Emanuel Gobay, one of the defense lawyers, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

The seven students and activists were involved in Jayapura protests in August last year following a racially charged incident targeting Papuan university students living in a dormitory in Surabaya, East Java. The students were physically and verbally attacked by security personnel and members of local mass organizations, who accused them of refusing to celebrate Indonesia's 74th Independence Day.

Security personnel reportedly banged on the dormitory's door while shouting insults like "monkeys", "pigs" and "dogs".

The protests in Jayapura started out peacefully but later turned violent, resulting in dozens of injuries and several buildings being damaged. The seven activists were arrested in Jayapura and were moved for trials in Balikpapan earlier this year for security reasons.

The trials have been met with outcry from the public and from activists, with many demanding that authorities drop all charges, as they argued that the Papuans involved in the rallies had only been exercising their right to protest racism against them.

Over the past three days prior to the verdicts scheduled for Wednesday, rallies carried out by students and young people demanding the defendants' release took place in various cities across the country.

Human rights activists have lambasted the arrests and charges against the Papuans, saying that acts of treason and reactions against racism were two different things.

They also argued that perpetrators of racism against Papuans, including hoax spreaders and verbal attackers, had been charged with less than a year of imprisonment.

"Despite the leniency, the verdicts still reflect racism under Indonesia's justice system. No matter what happens, West Papuans 'must' be found guilty by Indonesian courts, especially in treason and incitement cases," Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman said in her Twitter account.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/06/17/papuan-protesters-sentenced-to-less-than-one-year-for-treason-amid-calls-to-drop-charges.html