Responding to the postponed release of five Papuan prisoners of conscience (PoC) in Jakarta, Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director, Usman Hamid, said:
"This postponement is unacceptable. These prisoners of conscience should not have spent a single day in detention and must be freed immediately. Authorities have invoked both COVID-19 and threats to national security as reasons for the delay – but the fact is they should not be in jail at all.
"In fact, COVID-19 is another reason to urgently release all prisoners of conscience, not keep them behind bars.
"Likewise, pregnant women, people with disabilities, older people, those who are sick, minor and low-risk offenders, people nearing the end of their sentences and others who can safely be reintegrated into society should all be released to ease prison overcrowding amid this public health emergency."
Five prisoners of conscience (PoCs) from Papua – Paulus Surya Anta Ginting, Charles Kossay, Ambrosius Mulait, Dano Anes Tabuni, and Arina Lokbere – were due to be released 12 May 2020.
The group attended a peaceful demonstration protesting racism against Papuans in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on 28 August 2019. They were arrested at the peaceful protest and remained in pre-trial detention until their conviction on charges of makar (treason), for which they were sentenced to nine months' imprisonment.
However, authorities yesterday announced they would delay the release until 26 May, citing several reasons. They stated that Arina Lokbere remains in jail because of possible exposure to COVID-19, while the other four did not qualify for release under 2012 Government Regulation (PP) number 99 on Condition and Requirements of Inmates Rights.
The regulation says all prisoners convicted of 'terrorism', crimes against national security, gross human rights violation and transnational crimes are not qualified for assimilation without further approval from the National Police, the Office of the Attorney General and or the National Counterterrorism Agency.
Another Papuan PoC jailed in relation to the same incident, Isay Wenda, was sentenced to eight months' imprisonment and released on 24 April 2020.
The six are of part of a group of 55 PoCs from Papua, which include political activists, human rights defenders, and others imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights or expressing their views. That means there are still 50 Papuan PoCs, not include those from Maluku, who are still under imprisonment.
Based on information from their lawyer, the Papuan prisoners had carried out all administrative procedures to be released yesterday. Even the registration officers in prison have ensured that the five Papuan PoCs would be freed today.
However, prison authorities suddenly stated that the Papuan PoCs could not be given assimilation on the grounds that they have committed crimes against state security, and thus required to fulfil the requirements under Government Regulation No. 99/2012.
Under Law and Human Rights Ministerial Decree Number M.HH-19.PK/01.04.04 on the Release of Prisoners and Juvenile Through Assimilation and Integration as Part of COVID-19 Prevention and Handling, the Indonesian Government has decided to release up to 30,000 prisoners nationwide. In media reports, the Minister of Law and Human Rights, Yasonna Laoly, said the decision was a response to overcrowding in prisons.
On 25 March, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned governments of the "catastrophic" consequences for both detainees and wider communities of failing to address prison overcrowding and poor detention conditions in the context of COVID-19. She called on governments to "release every person detained without sufficient legal basis" and to "release those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, among them older detainees and those who are sick, as well as low-risk offenders".
Amnesty International is urging governments to review the need for continued custodial detention in order to safeguard the health of people in detention, prison staff, and the general population.
Governments should consider if prisoners qualify for parole, early or conditional release, or other alternative non-custodial measures. They must fully take into account individual circumstances and the risks posed to specific groups of prisoners, such as older people or those with serious medical conditions, including those with a weakened immune system.
Given that the spread of transmissible diseases is a public health concern, especially in the prison environment, it is desirable that, with their consent, all detainees can have access to free COVID-19 screening tests, including those who are scheduled for early release. For those who remain in detention or prison, the authorities must provide a standard of healthcare that meets each person's individual needs and ensures the maximum possible protection against the spread of COVID-19.