Human Rights Update West Papua - 2nd Quarter 2020

The most significant events in the second quarter of 2020 were the outcomes in multiple trials against Papuan activists who had been prosecuted for the participation or the organisation of protests against racism in August and September 2019. Notably, the trial against the 'Balikpapan 7' drew the attention of Papuan civil society and international human rights observers as the public prosecutor demanded sentences of 5 to 17 years for the defendants. Religious leaders and other civil society actors in West Papua feared further outbreaks of riots if the seven activists had been sentenced with such high penalties. In comparison to other trials in Jayapura, Jakarta, Manokwari and Sorong, the demanded sentences for the defendants were disproportionately high. The lawyers representing the protesters at court stated that many of the hearings did not meet the standards of a fair and impartial trial. Fabricated evidence, prioritisation of police reports over court testimonies and deliberate changes in the established agenda were only a few shortcomings. Moreover, the lawyers claimed that the decision to conduct the trials via video conference turned out to affect the exercise of their mandate negatively. The public was excluded from trials.

The enforcement of measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in human rights violations against West Papuans. Police officers have conducted arrests during sensitive political activities for allegedly violating social distancing policies. Furthermore, there are two reported cases between April and June 2020, where the unprofessional behaviour of police officers during the enforcement of those policies resulted in injuries and one fatality among civilians.
The number of cases of physical assault, obstruction and intimidation of human rights defenders (HRDs) in West Papua has significantly increased, with twelve reported cases. The majority are hacker attacks against the HRDs. Frequent internet advocacy events against racism in West Papua and in support of the 'Balikpapan 7' throughout June 2020 reached an international audience. They likely drew the discontent of loyal government supporters and nationalist groups. The perpetrators of the attacks could not be exposed. There continue to be more than 40.000 internally displaced Papuans as a result of various military operations in the Papuan highlands. The IDPs continue to be in need of aid, protection and the possibility to return to their homes safely.

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