Papuans Behind Bars January 2014

  • Print

At the end of January 2014, there were at least 74 political prisoners in Papuan jails.

The visiting delegation of Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) leaders was a highly politically charged event, and demonstrations were predictable. However, both the seniority of the civil society leaders heading the demonstrations and the repressive police response, in defiance of the media spotlight, highlighted just how high the stakes were on all sides.

As is often the case in Papua, protests were intended to highlight the long history of human rights violations in Papua, and in doing so the ongoing nature of those violations was demonstrated as protestors were arbitrarily arrested yet again. While protestors targeting the MSG delegation in Jayapura were manhandled, arrested and dispersed, protests targeting the delegation in Jakarta were not subject to these repressive tactics, despite getting far closer to members of the delegation than their colleagues in Papua. As numerous commentators noted, the state response to the protests was something of an 'own goal' for Indonesia, given that the original reason for the visit was to investigate the human rights situation in Papua.

The extremely heavy sentences proposed by the Prosecutor for defendants in the 1 May 2013 Biak case crystallised the trial into a critical test case for Indonesia's policies in Papua. Five of the six defendants are threatened with 15-18 year sentences for peacefully raising the Morning Star flag in Biak. Their case echoes that of Filep Karma, who was imprisoned ten years ago and continues to serve a 15-year sentence for the same peaceful act. As the trial continues, Papua's courts face a clear choice: to allow history to repeat itself in defiance of national and international law, or to steer a new course.

Reports of the torture of 12 men detained at demonstrations in November 2013 once again raise concerns about the treatment of political detainees in Papua, particularly in the Jayapura regional police station. The detainees were tortured, isolated and denied access to lawyers, with reports of torture only surfacing once the detainees were transferred to Abepura prison and could be accessed by lawyers and human rights workers. This is a recurring pattern. An area of particular concern is the fact that police were untruthful to human rights lawyers offering to represent the detainees, stating they already had representation, although this was not the case. These tactics are frequently reported and appear to be a deliberate strategy to ensure that illegal and inhumane police practices can continue undisturbed throughout the investigation process.

The slow emergence of information about political arrests in Sarmi and violence, political arrests and population displacement in Puncak Jaya highlighted the extreme difficulties in accessing accurate real-time information from most parts of Papua.

Read the full report here