Indonesia told 'free political prisoners'

The Indonesian government has been accused of detaining more than 400 political prisoners from West Papua, despite official claims that every inmate in the country’s jails has broken criminal law.

According to a report by UK-based human rights charity Tapol, at least 210 political activists were arrested in West Papua last year, in 28 separate incidents. But it warns the true number of arrests is likely to be far higher, since a number go unreported or cannot be confirmed. 

No political prisoners? The suppression of political protest in West Papua, documents the cases of 40 detainees who were known to be in prison at the end of March 2013.

A supporter carries a portrait of Mako Tabuni, the slain vice chairman of the National Committee for West Papua, and the banned Morning Star flag during Tabuni’s funeral in Jayapura on June 16, 2012. Tabuni was shot dead by police in an incident that led infuriated pro-independence activists to demand a full explanation from Indonesia's national parliament. The Indonesian government has now been accused of detaining more than 400 political prisoners from West Papua. (AFP Photo)

It is based on research and interviews conducted by Tapol, and data from Papuans Behind Bars, a project initiated by civil society groups in West Papua and launched in the provincial capital, Jayapura, earlier this month.

According to figures from Papuans Behind Bars, there were at least 403 political prisoners in jail in West Papua as at 31 March 2013.

Of the 210 political arrests documented in 2012, the report claims more than half took place at peaceful demonstrations. In total, 60 of those arrested were apparently members of the West Papua National Committee, which is campaigning for a referendum on independence for the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Of those arrested, 134 were released and 45 were charged, while the fate of the remainder remains unknown. Of the 45 charged, 20 were accused of treason under Article 106 of the Indonesian Criminal Code.

The report claims to have identified 28 cases of torture or ill treatment on arrest and in detention, in addition to seven cases of forced confessions. It also says that at least four political activists were shot by police while allegedly resisting arrest – two of them fatally.

Paul Barber, coordinator of Tapol, urged Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to promote democracy in West Papua and order the release of all those jailed for expressing “legitimate opinions and aspirations”.

He added that Indonesia’s progress on civil and political rights will be in the spotlight later this year, when the UN Human Rights Committee will consider the country’s first report on its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“Papua’s political prisoners are not mythical characters – they are real men and women whose existence must be recognised,” he said. “If the government wants peace in West Papua, it should be talking to political leaders, not locking them up. Allowing Papuans the right to express themselves like any other citizen is a basic first step towards resolving the conflict.”

One woman interviewed in the report described the effect on her children when she was jailed for what she says was peaceful political activity. 

“While I was in jail my kids were like street children,” she said.

Related search: Indonesia, West Papua, political prisoners, West Papua National Committee, Tapol

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