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Letter re COVID 19 and political prisoners in Indonesia and West Papua

West Papua Action Auckland - April 19, 2020

Rt Hon Jacinda Adern
Prime Minister
Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Parliament Buildings

Dear Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters,

There are 63 political prisoners detained in Indonesia on treason charges who have just made an urgent appeal for their release to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and UN Special Rapporteurs. This group of 63 pose no threat to society as all have been involved in peaceful protest actions. Yet they are in grave danger of contracting COVID 19 in Indonesia's crowded and unsanitary prisons. Indonesia's prisons are currently operating at twice their capacity.

We urge you to use your good offices with the Indonesian Government to support this appeal. We note that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights made an urgent call in March for Governments to 'release every person detained without sufficient legal basis' such as political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views.

The lawyers acting on behalf of the group have made detailed representations to back the claim that all of them are being arbitrarily detained in violations of international human rights standards. The group includes 56 indigenous Papuans, five Moluccans, one Indonesian and one Polish citizen. The great majority of the political prisoners (56) were arrested in the crackdown by Indonesian authorities during the mass protest movement in support of West Papua in 2019 ('the West Papua Uprising'). The activities for which they have been detained range from displaying the West Papuan or Moluccan national flags, to participation in peaceful demonstrations or being members of political organisations which support self-determination: all internationally protected activities. All 63 political prisoners have been charged with treason (makar) under Article 106 and/or Article 110 of Indonesia's Criminal Code, which can carry a sentence of up to 20 years.

In New Zealand it is common to see a representation of the West Papuan Morning Star flag on a t-shirt, a badge or on social media. A young Papuan woman, Sayang Mandabayan (34), has been charged with treason and remains in jail because she was found in possession of 1,496 small paper Morning Star flags. She has been separated from her three pre-school children and is only occasionally able to breast feed her youngest child. A picture of her breast feeding her child in prison went viral in Indonesia and beyond, with calls for her release.

The 63 prisoners also include Paulus "Suryanta" Ginting, spokesperson for the Indonesian People's Front for West Papua (Front Rakyat Indonesia untuk West Papua), the first non-Papuan Indonesian to be charged with treason in relation to the West Papuan self-determination movement. Two of the Moluccan prisoners are an elderly couple who were found to have displayed the Moluccan flag inside their home. (https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/414508/political-prisoners-in-indonesia-appeal-to-un)

The New Zealand Government's response to COVID 19 and to the protection of its citizens has been exemplary. Now that the crisis is under better control here, we should spare some compassion for people in other places. Please do all you can to amplify this just appeal for the liberation of blameless political prisoners. It could make the difference between life and death.

Yours sincerely,

Maire Leadbeater
Catherine Delahunty

(for West Papua Action Auckland)

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