Agencies, Jakarta – A United Nations expert has urged Indonesia to provide proper medical care to a Papuan independence activist to "keep him from dying in prison", after reports emerged that his health had deteriorated, Reuters reported.
Victor Yeimo, 39, who is the international spokesman for the West Papua National Committee, was arrested in Jayapura in May.
He has been charged with treason and inciting violence and social unrest in relation to the pro-independence protests that swept the region for several weeks in 2019. Yeimo has denied the charges.
His trial went ahead in August despite repeated requests from his lawyer for a delay on medical grounds, Mary Lawlor, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said in a statement on Monday.
"I've seen it before: States deny medical care to ailing, imprisoned human rights defenders, which results in serious illness or death," said Lawlor.
"Indonesia must take urgent steps to ensure that this fate does not await Yeimo," she said, adding that his access to medical care had been restricted and his prison conditions "may have amounted to torture".
Yeimo is being treated at a Jayapura hospital after a court ordered that he be given medical attention.
Papuan activist Rosa Javiera said on Tuesday that Yeimo was suffering from chronic tuberculosis that required continuous medical treatment. "If he has to go back to the correctional institution, then we know the conditions are very poor and not good for his health."
In a press release received by The Jakarta Post on Tuesday, Indonesia's Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva claimed Lawlor's statement was a "mischaracterization" of Yeimo's case.
"The fact that the Indonesian government carried out the court's order to take Yeimo to receive treatment at a hospital on Aug. 30 attests to the government's seriousness in ensuring the health and well-being of Yeimo," the mission said.
It said the Constitution guaranteed the protection of human rights and equality for all, including human rights defenders but asserted, "Mere self-identification as a human rights defender does not, and should never, render a person immune from prosecution when he or she is accused of being in violation of the law."
The mission added that the government was committed to engaging in constructive discussion and accused Lawlor of taking a "megaphone approach [...] just for the sake of personal gain through media exposure".
According to Amnesty International Indonesia, as of July 2021, at least 13 Papuan prisoners of conscience remained behind bars for peacefully expressing political views.
The group also recorded 56 cases of alleged unlawful killings with 93 victims between February 2018 and August of this year and suspected that the incidents were the result of excessive use of force during security operations. Amnesty also found at least 11 violations of the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly from January to August of this year, including the arrests of Papuan university students for staging peaceful rallies.
Amnesty's Indonesia and Australia offices said Indonesia's "security approach against pro-independence armed groups, coupled with negative perceptions among security forces that label Papuans who express their political views or human rights concerns as separatists, have resulted in rights violations". These tendencies, they said, had done "little to end the pervasive culture of impunity in the region".
"Without addressing these violations and bringing the perpetrators to justice, there cannot be a meaningful and lasting peace in the region, as the last six decades have shown," Amnesty Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said on Tuesday, in a press release received by the Post.
The group also recorded at least 6,152 people who had been forced to leave their homes from January to June of this year because they feared for their lives amid conflicts between security forces and pro-independence armed groups in Papua.