Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern
Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Dear Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters,
On 19 April we wrote to you to appeal for the New Zealand Government to use its good offices with the Indonesian Government to support the international call for the release of all political prisoners detained in Indonesia and West Papua. Recent developments make this appeal even more urgent. If this has not already been done please make contact with the office of President Joko Widodo to discuss this urgent issue.
We are writing to you on the day when New Zealand announced that there were no new cases of COVID 19 to report. We count ourselves fortunate indeed to live in a country where our Government has managed the COVID 19 pandemic in an exemplary fashion. Of course our success cannot easily be matched in a country like Indonesia with a large population, high levels of poverty and a health infrastructure which is not uniform across the country. However, this is all the more reason for Indonesia to limit the possible spread of the virus by releasing political prisoners who pose no threat to the state.
Indonesia already has over 11,000 cases of Covid 19 and has reported 845 Covid 19 deaths. It is suspected the true numbers are much higher given low levels of testing. It is very difficult to get a clear picture of the state of play in West Papua, given the fact that many of the people live in remote and mountainous areas. However, the numbers being reported are currently over 280. It is very concerning to learn that there is a hot-spot in the Mimika region where the Freeport McMoran mine is sited and where workers and their families live in crowded conditions.
At the time of our last letter, there were 63 political prisoners detained in Indonesia on treason charges, now there are at least 70. These prisoners pose no threat to society because all have been involved in peaceful protest actions. All of them 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. The imprisonment of each additional prisoner adds to the risk posed everyone involved, including prison staff, lawyers and other officials.
We have now learned that on 24 April, a court in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, convicted six Papuan activists for treason and sentenced them to between eight and nine months in prison. The five men and one woman were involved in a rally on August 28, 2019, outside the State Palace in Jakarta, during which they unfurled the West Papuan Morning Star flag. The lawyers who defended the 'Jakarta Six' said that the Court had not taken account of the fact that the organisers of the event had notified the police and that the police had even facilitated the event to the extent of providing a bus to assist when the group dispersed after the action. These convictions underline Indonesian Government's intolerance of dissent and disregard for international human rights norms concerning the right of free speech and assembly.
We also learn of arrests that took place in late April in Maluku which have resulted in another seven people being arrested and detained on treason charges. A number of people allegedly took part flag-raising ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the declaration of independence of the Republic of South Moluccas (Republik Maluku Selatan, RMS) in 1950. In one incident which was filmed, a small group actually walked into the Ambon headquarters of the Police carrying the banned Moluccan flag.
We urge you to condemn the recent conviction of the 'Jakarta Six' who did nothing more than express their opposition to Indonesia's heavy-handed rule in West Papua. New Zealand should also call for the immediate release of all prisoners being held in jails across West Papua and Indonesia for 'non-crimes' involving the peaceful expression of dissent.
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