#MakeWestPapuaSafe Campaign organizes webinar about Balikpapan 7 with Sarah Thompson

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On 15 June 2020, the case of the seven anti-racism activists on trial for treason was discussed in a webinar organised by the #makewestpapuasafe. The panellists were Benny Giay (Moderator KINGMI Papua), Gustaf Kawer (lawyer for the Balikpapan 7 and director of PAHAM Papua), Usman Hamid (director and founder of Amnesty International Indonesia), Jacob Rumbiak (spokesperson for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua), Sarah Thompson (Black Lives Matter organiser and West Papua solidarity activist), and Jason MacLeod (civil resistance lecturer).

During the webinar, Sarah Thompson talked about the #Black Lives Matter and the importance to understand the campaign as a global movement, fighting racial discrimination against black people all over the world: “…the black lives matter movement is global, it looks different in each place, but because anti-blackness is global, our movement to address racism is global, and I also shared about what I saw in West Papua, like the group of West Papuan students living in Jakarta who were renting an apartment. When they went to pick up the keys, the landlord saw that they were Papuans, that they were black, and all of a sudden, the apartment was no longer available. That type of housing discrimination is unacceptable”.

She explained that the situations of racism against Afro-Americans in the United States and Papuans in Indonesia are only two pieces of a larger puzzle to succeed in the global struggle for freedom and equality for black people. “Here [in the US], we are struggling for our lives, saying no to police brutality, saying no to voters’ oppression saying no to unjust incarceration. Yet, we know that none of us are free in the US until all of us are free, and that means until West Papua is free, we will continue to march, we will continue to speak out, we will continue to bring our humanity to the system and say there is no longer ‘us’ vs ‘them’, it’s all of us or none. And we choose all of us.”

Sarah Thompson stressed the need to eradicate racism – not only as a sentiment in society – but also as a structural problem in many countries which had undermined government branches and offices at all levels, including the law enforcement system. “I agree with what Usman said (AI), that racism is when people feel superior, due to how they see themselves in their economic interest, in their imperial position. …. But I want to say that racism is that prejudice plus power, the power to act, the power of privilege, the power of institutions that give some people privilege over others. We are here not only to transform people’s feelings but to transform the state, which is why it is ridiculous that they [the Balikpapan 7] are being tried for treason, they should be given an award for lifting up the full humanity.”

Similar as racism, false-leading developments in governance, economy and society had caused hardship for mankind, among them the climate change. Therefore, she encouraged the viewers to understand the co-relation between different mis-developments. “When we speak truth to power, we speak about how these systems of oppression interlock, how the law and the police are supported by how education is done, which should increase the autonomy and self-determination of all people, but yet it’s not inclusive. When we speak truth, we speak the truth right now, at a crucial moment. Climate change can’t be resolved without addressing racism. The same system that gave us racism gave us a type of economy that treats the earth like a supply house and a sewer. Both are connected to the same white supremacist capitalist patriarchal hegemony. And so, when you work to address racism you are working on the environment. The environmental issue will not be resolved without paying attention to how black people are treated. And that’s why it is so important to understand that the August/September 2019 uprisings were anti-racist uprisings. When we understand the impulse of addressing racism, we also feel the same impulse that we are all a crucial part of earth functioning, that all beings on the planet have a right to live, that we are one of many”, said Thompson.

Thompson called on all people to trace back the root causes of racism. She underlined that it was colonialism which gave rise to racism which continues to be the driving force behind the marginalisation and exploitation of indigenous peoples in West Papua and other parts of the world. “Racism has its roots in colonisation, I want to speak about a very particular aspect of colonisation, and that’s called the doctrine of discovery, which is a series of Papal Bulls written between 1452-1493 and essentially let the Christian church in Europe say to the nations on Europe: whatever land you find that Christians do not rule, those people in that land are less than human and the land is yours for the taking. This is one of those root causes… … allow for West Papua. As we think about how we turn this global moment of uprising into a movement is to look into that deep root of the doctrine of discovery that gave a state the power to discover, take, invade and subdue. That doctrine is what allows for the destruction of indigenous peoples, among other things. So our (the) response has been to look at the needs and create the Human Declaration of the Rights of indigenous peoples that says no the doctrine of discovery. How our work on black lives matter relates to indigenous struggles worldwide and how we can come together to repudiate the doctrine of discovery and to speak to the prejudice plus power… the power to take land, the power to subdue.”

Sarah Thompson urged the people to become active in any campaign addressing the issue of racism and the oppression of fundamental rights and freedoms. She demanded the unconditional release of all political prisoners in Indonesia, including the Balikpapan 7. “There are a lot of allies on this call, a lot people who have been moved and are ready to act. We should continue to contact all the representatives that we can at the UN level, Australian level, here in the US, in Indonesia, in Papua to release these prisoners, to release these seven anti-racist activists. This is the beginning of the release for all political prisoners in Papua and around the world. Your call makes the difference. Turning this moment into a movement includes you thinking about how you take your learning from today’s webinar and share it with someone else, how can you educate people about it, how can we support West Papua, etc., because this anti-racism uprising is all to preserve your humanity. We can all participate in the movement. We know that here in the US, we are not free until you are free. And so black lives matter is a global movement because anti-blackness is global. Anti-blackness is a particular form of racism that is based on exploitation, on devaluing our costumes, our ancestors, our history, and everything that we have brought to the global community.”

Besides Sarah Thompson, the presentation of human rights lawyer, Gustaf Kawer, provided deeper insights into the pattern of racial discrimination in the Indonesian law enforcement system. Kawer is part of a team of lawyers defending Papuan human rights activists in court. They have been prosecuted for participating in demonstrations against racism throughout August and September 2019, including the trial against the Balikpapan 7.

Gustaf Kawer explained that the racial discrimination in the process against the Balikpapan 7 had manifested itself in multiple procedural violations, which appeared in all stages of law enforcement. He told that not only the trials, but also the racist assault against Papuan students in Surabaya in August 2019 was emblematic for the persistent patterns of racism in Indonesia. “The racist acts were committed by members of the police, the military, the Gerindra Party and radical nationalist groups in Surabaya. The state did not step in to protect the Papuan students from the racist assaults despite the fact that Indonesia has a law against racial discrimination, namely Law No. 40/2008.“

Instead of taking a firm stance against the perpetrators, the government reacted by deploying approximately 6,000 security force members to West Papua in response to the anti-racism demonstrations. “After that, more than 1,000 persons were arrested. The largest number of arrests occurred on 23 September 2019 with approximately 750 persons being arrested. Sixty-nine of them were legally prosecuted, 23 of them were detained under possible treason charges.  This is part of a larger scenario created by the government to prosecute activists in West Papua. The coordinating Minister for Security, Political and Legal Affairs and the National Police Chief accused the ULMWP, the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) and Papuan Student Alliance (AMP) of being responsible for the demonstrations and the riots. They ordered the police to chase down and arrest activists in West Papua, including the Balikpapan 7”, said Kawer.

The Balikpapan 7 were arbitrarily arrested in September 2019, without proper arrest or detention warrants. However, the unlawful arrests were only one of many criminal procedure breaches. “The legal process against a suspect usually starts with the examination of witnesses, documents, experts and evidence. The last to be examined are the suspects themselves. However, in the case of the Balikpapan 7, they were instantly charged with treason. Witnesses and evidence were collected after the suspects had already been charged. They were also tortured upon their arrest. One suspect was blindfolded and beaten and subsequently interrogated. The initial interrogations were conducted without a lawyer being present. Many pieces of evidence and the witnesses were manipulated. The police only listed members of the police as witnesses, all incriminating the seven defendants. On 4 October 2019, the police transferred the seven defendants to Balikpapan without informing the legal attorneys and their relatives. By doing this they acted against the law, which stipulates that a transfer can only be done by the prosecutor in coordination with the court. The transfer must be approved by the department of the Attorney General. Neither the police nor the prosecutor or the judges followed this procedure”, Kawer explained.

The discrimination continued during the trial. The judges provided sufficient time and space for the public prosecutor to present evidence and question witnesses, whereas the defence lawyers were only given brief time. “We were given two weeks to present the evidence and our witnesses. The court hearings were conducted online and closed to the public. None of our [defence] witnesses were considered when the public prosecutor sought high sentences between 5 and 17 for the defendants. In comparison to other trials in Jayapura, Jakarta, Manokwari and Sorong, the demanded sentences for the defendants were disproportionately high. The demands were not related to the facts presented in court, but were entirely based on the police reports. The public prosecutor used information that was not related to or mentioned during the trial when he presented the charges. The defendants simply participated in anti-racism protests which has nothing to do with treason. They should never have been sentenced.”