Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta – The Church in Indonesia has joined civil and rights groups in demanding the unconditional release of eight Papuan university students, who have been held without trial for more than three months accused of treason.
The students were arrested and charged after staging a pro-independence rally on Dec. 1 in Jayapura, capital of Papua province.
During the rally, they waved the Papuan Morning Star flag banned by Indonesian authorities for being a pro-independence symbol and displaying posters proclaiming self-determination for West Papua.
The rally was held to mark the 60th anniversary of what many Papuans regard as West Papua's proclamation of independence before it was incorporated into Indonesia.
The event also marked the birth of the Free Papua Movement.
All eight students have remained in custody ever since, pending further investigations, according to police.
"It has been three months since they were detained... and their detention has been extended until March 1," Emanuel Gobay, coordinator of the Coalition of Papuan Law and Human Rights Enforcement, said in a statement received by UCA News on Feb. 6.
The coalition includes the Franciscan Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.
Suspects, according to the Indonesian Criminal Code, can be detained for up to 60 days while investigations are being carried out.
Gobay, who is also director of the Legal Aid Institute in Papua, said waving the Papuan Morning Star flag was simply the exercising of freedom of expression guaranteed by the 1945 constitution and existing laws.
As such it was illogical for the students to be named treason suspects.
"We call on the National Police chief to immediately order the unconditional release of the eight Papuan university students and to end the arbitrary use of the treason law," he said.
"Never make it a tool to silence freedom of expression in this democratic country," he added.