Ronna Nirmala, Jakarta – The start of a Papuan independence activist's trial on treason charges was postponed Tuesday for a third time after he fell ill and had to be hospitalized for pulmonary and gastric problems, lawyers said.
Victor Yeimo was admitted to the Jayapura General Hospital on Monday after the court and prosecutors agreed to postpone the trial pending his treatment, according to Adrianus Tomana, the public prosecutor.
"The suspension of detention was granted so that defendant Victor Yeimo can be treated in hospital," Adrianus told BenarNews.
The activist will return to his detention cell from the hospital once he has recovered, Adrianus said.
Yeimo, the international spokesman for the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), a group seeking a referendum on independence for the Papua region, is facing charges of treason, desecration of state symbols, and weapons smuggling in connection with deadly anti-Jakarta riots that took place in 2019.
He could face two years to a maximum of life in prison, if found guilty.
The indefinite postponement marked the third time since last week that the trial's opening was delayed. It was originally set to begin on Aug. 24 at a courthouse in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province.
Yeimo's attorney, Gustav Kawer, criticized the prosecutor's office, accusing it of delaying approval for his client's medical treatment.
"Initially, the prosecutor had wanted the trial to proceed as planned and the defendant to remain in detention," Kawer told BenarNews. "Maybe they wanted him to die in his detention cell."
Last Thursday, the Jayapura District Court ordered Yeimo to receive medical treatment and adjourned the trial after receiving the results of his medical checks.
Yeimo had been held at a detention facility run by the crack Mobile Brigade police unit since his arrest on May 9.
Kawer said Yeimo had complained of chest pain and coughed up blood, with his chronic pulmonary conditions aggravated because of a poorly ventilated cell.
But police and the prosecutor's office had initially denied requests for his client to be treated and transferred to another facility, Kawer alleged.
On Friday, police finally took Yeimo to a hospital for a series of health examinations, the defense lawyer said.
The doctor diagnosed Yeimo with acid reflux disease, chronic bronchitis and possible pulmonary tuberculosis, according to the results of the examinations, a copy of which was seen by BenarNews.
In 2019, more than 40 people were killed in Papua and neighboring West Papua province during anti-government demonstrations that turned violent. These were sparked by the perceived harsh and racist treatment of Papuan students by government security personnel in Java that August.
Police said Yeimo instigated the demonstrations, during which protestors demanded independence from Jakarta's rule for the far-eastern Papua region, which makes up the western side of New Guinea Island.
Indonesian government forces have been accused of engaging in racist actions against indigenous people in mainly Melanesian Papua, where violence linked to a separatist insurgency has simmered for decades, and grown in recent months.
Last year, at least 13 Papuan activists and students were convicted for raising Morning Star flags – the symbol of the Papuan independence movement – during pro-referendum rallies in 2019 as part of nationwide protests against racism towards Papuans.
They were sentenced to between nine and 11 months in prison on treason charges.
'Inhumane and cruel'
Wirya Adiwena, deputy director of the rights group Amnesty International in Indonesia, criticized the delay in treating Yeimo.
"We are grateful that he was finally hospitalized, but we also regret why the process was so slow. We've known how his health was and that he needed urgent treatment," Wirya told BenarNews.
"Any attempt to prevent him from being treated constitutes inhumane and cruel treatment," he said.
According to Wirya, Yeimo should not have been detained and prosecuted in the first place.
"His continued detention is in violation of international human rights laws and Indonesia's constitution. It is critical that he be released as soon as possible," Wirya said.
Papua police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal denied that Yeimo was denied treatment.
"He has been given regular health checks, including the last one, the results of which were submitted to the court," Kamal told BenarNews.
On Monday, hundreds of people rallied outside the Papuan prosecutor's office to demand that Yeimo be immediately released, according to Jubi, a Papuan news website.
The crowd was disbanded by the police in the afternoon.
Yeimo's current legal trouble is not his first brush with the law.
In 2009, he was arrested and sentenced to a year in prison for leading a rally demanding a referendum on self-determination for Papua.
In other news from the region, a Papuan man who was wounded on Aug. 16 when police fired shots at protestors in Papua's Yahukimo regency who were demanding Yeimo's release has died of his injuries, West Papua National Committee chairman Agus Kossay said.
Ferianus Asso, 29, died on Aug. 22 after being treated in a hospital for a bullet wound to his stomach, Kossay said.
"We are working with his family and lawyers to demand the chief of the police be held accountable and brought to justice," Kossay told BenarNews.
Meanwhile, on the day that Asso died, rebels gunned down two workers in the same regency who were involved in the construction of the Trans-Papua Highway.
The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the military wing of the Free Papua Movement, claimed responsibility for the killings. They had killed other construction workers in the past, claiming they were government agents.
In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua and annexed the region. Papua was formally incorporated into Indonesia after a U.N.-sponsored ballot called the Act of Free Choice in 1969.
Locals and activists said the vote was a sham because only about 1,000 people took part. However, the United Nations accepted the result, which essentially endorsed Jakarta's rule.
The region is rich in natural resources and minerals, including copper and gold, but remains among Indonesia's poorest and underdeveloped ones.