Alya Nurbaiti, Jakarta – Human rights activists have slammed the government for what they deem the misuse of treason charges to prosecute Papuans, thereby threatening their freedom of speech and right to assembly.
The activists highlighted the recent imprisonment of seven Papuans following their arrest during antiracism protests in Jayapura, Papua, in August last year.
Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said people could exercise their freedom of expression legitimately if it was expressed without any violence, as was done by many Papuans during the protest.
"However, the state generalizes all kind of expression by Papuans as treason, even peaceful protests, due to its fear over an imagined threat to the country's sovereignty," Usman said during a virtual press briefing on Tuesday.
Foundation of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI) chairwoman Asfinawati echoed Usman's view, saying physical assault was necessary for charging someone with treason. "The treason article itself [in the Criminal Code inherited from the Dutch colonial era] is problematic due to its chronic errors in translation and use."
She added the fact that Cenderawasih University student union head Ferry Kombo and other defendants had been handed prison sentences of less than one year demonstrated that they should never have been arrested in the first place.
"If they were truly guilty of treason, they should have been sentenced to at least two-thirds of the initial demand of five to 17 years' imprisonment."
Yorrys Raweyai, the head of the Papua and West Papua legislative council members forum, said the state's attitude toward the freedom of expression in the country's easternmost provinces was discriminatory, even though such rights were guaranteed in the Constitution.
"The judicial process against Papuans is deemed discriminatory as well," Yorrys went on to say.
He highlighted a case when law enforcement officials arrested MG, a Papuan child suspected of premeditated murder. Police transferred him from Wamena to Jakarta, while he did not speak Indonesian and was not accompanied by legal representatives during the investigation. The court eventually acquitted him of all charges.
"The absence of justice by the state in many cases often causes trauma among Papuans," Yorrys said.
On the other hand, Usman added, the perpetrators of racism against Papuans in many cases were sentenced to less than one year of imprisonment, including an individual who verbally attacked Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java, in August last year.
"Systemic racism in this country is reflected in unfair trials of Papuans," Usman said.
The Law and Human Rights Ministry's director general of human rights, Mualimin Abdi, argued that the problem lay with the law's misinterpretation by law enforcement authorities, who interpreted the norms differently to the government's initial intent upon formulating it.
Usman disputed Mualimin's statement, saying the police initially had ensured the antiracism protest by Papuan students remained peaceful. They did not immediately detain the students for treason, even though some had been spotted waving the Bintang Kejora (Morning Star) flag, a symbol of the Papuan independence movement.
"The police made arrests only after several political elites had voiced their disagreement with any expression of Papuan self-determination," he said, alleging that the police had lacked independence in conducting its investigation.
Asfinawati urged the government to evaluate its law enforcement, as discriminatory treatment of Papuans in legal proceedings violated the 2008 Law on the Elimination of Racial and Ethnic Discrimination.
She added that the state had failed to provide justice for Papuans who had been wrongly prosecuted as prisoners of conscience by not providing rehabilitation, including an acknowledgement of their innocence.
Mualimin admitted that the ministry had never evaluated this aspect of law enforcement. "I agree that the government must be ready to provide reparation for trauma."