Reza Gunadha and Yosea Arga Pramudita – Demonstrators from the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (Tapol) held a protest action at the Aspiration Park and the Supreme Court (MA) in Central Jakarta on Monday June 15.
The actions were to demand justice for seven Papuan political prisoners being tried on charges of makar (treason, subversion, rebellion) in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, over their involvement in anti-racism protests in Jayapura city last year.
After demonstrating at Aspiration Park, the protesters moved off towards the nearby Supreme Court building. During the march they maintained health protocols in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The individual demonstrators kept a safe distance from each other and wore marks and plastic gloves as measures to protect themselves from the corona virus.
One of the action participants, Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-WP) spokesperson Surya Anta Ginting – who was released from prison last month after being sentenced for treason – said that the demonstration in the midst of the transition from large scale social restrictions (PSBB) had to be held. This is because there is no other way to call for justice for the Papuan political prisoners.
“The comrades have already submitted a written notification [with police] and it was accepted. We are aware that this action is taking place in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. But what else can we do?”, said Surya Anta in front of the Supreme Court building.
“This is the only means we have to break through a dangerous situation, because, what about the fate of our comrades? Facing sentences of five to 17 years in prison. How could we just articulate this through social media? Even speaking out through street actions the government doesn’t want to listen. We had to make this political choice [to protest] in front of the MA”, he explained.
Surya Anta said that the heavy sentences being demanded for the seven Papuan political prisoners is what spurred them to take to the streets. It would be a different story if the seven political prisoners were unconditionally released then the action at the Supreme Court would not have been held.
“These sentences are what made us take action. If our friends are released of course we would not have protested in front of the MA”, explained Surya Anta.
Speaking separately, Gambir Metro sectoral police chief Commissioner Kadek Budiarta said that they had deployed around 200 joint personnel from the police and the TNI (Indonesian military) to secure the action.
“There are around 200 personnel. Police and TNI. The TNI soldiers are from the koramil [sub-district military command] then at the MA there is one SSK [company level unit}. Essentially we hope that the action will be smooth and orderly and there will be no friction”, said Budiarta at the location.
Budiarta added that they will also appeal to the protesters to apply health protocols because the action is taking place during the PSBB transition period.
“Later we’ll ask them to maintain social distancing. Certainly the spread of Covid-19 is most susceptible when there is a crowd and they don’t maintain social distance. They’re still waiting for the korlap [action coordinator], later we’ll convey this”, he added.
The seven Papuan political prisoners in Balikpapan are facing different sentences. Former University of Cendrawasih Student Executive Council (BEM) Chairperson Ferry Kombo and Jayapura University of Science and Technology (USTJ) Student President Alex Gobay are facing 10-year sentences while Hengky Hilapok and Irwanus Urobmabin are facing five years in prison.
United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) Legislative Body Deputy Chairperson Buchtar Tabuni meanwhile is facing a 17-year sentence while Mimika West Papua National Committee (KNPB) Chairperson Steven Itlay and KNPB General Chairperson Agus Kossay are facing 15 years in jail.
Over a series of hearings at the Balikpapan District Court between June 2-5 the public prosecutor has indicted all seven under Article 106 of the Criminal Code (KUHP) in conjunction with Article 55 Paragraph (1) of the KUHP on makar over their involvement in protest actions in Jayapura city in August 2019 which were held to protest racism against Papuan students in the East Java provincial capital of Surabaya.
The seven Papuan political prisoners are being held at the Balikpapan class II penitentiary on grounds of security. They have been undergoing trial at the Balikpapan District Court since January.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Solidaritas Pembebasan Papua Aksi di MA: Bebaskan 7 Tapol di Balikpapan”.]