Activists call for release of all West Papuan political prisoners

Suara Papua – April 4, 2020
Human rights activists and families of Papuan tapols after prison visit in Balikpapan – Undated (Dok Pri)

Markus You, Nabire – It is hoped that a new policy by Justice and Human Rights Minister (Menkumham) Yasonna Laoly to release thousands of convicted criminals from prisons across Indonesia will not discriminate against Papuan political prisoners (tapol) who are still incarcerated in jail that were arrested in related to the wave of mass actions against racism in August and September last year.

Natalius Pigai, a human rights defender and former National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) commissioner, asserted that this is because the policy gives the impression of not being fair for hundreds of Papuan students who are citizens of Indonesia.

Thousands of convicts will be released following the issuance of Justice and Human Rights Ministerial Regulation Number 10/2020 and Justice and Human Rights Ministerial Decision Number M.HH-19.PK/01.04.04 on the terms and conditions of assimilation and integration of prisoners and juvenile inmates to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Pigai believes that this policy is very appropriate bearing in mind the fatal corona virus which is spreading throughout the world.

“We want this policy to apply justly for the hundreds of Papuan students who are still in jail or undergoing trial”, he told Suara Papua on Saturday April 4.

The Papuan students and activists who have been detained in relation to the protests against racism in Indonesia, said Pigai, are still being tried in court amidst the threat of the corona virus.

“To this day all of the victims of racism in Indonesia which took place in 2019 are still in jail, prisoners. The majority of them were charged under the makar [treason, subversion, rebellion] articles, along with emergency articles and the like. The legal process has been unjust, discriminatory and racist. Meanwhile the perpetrators of this racism in Surabaya [East Java] who received light sentences, have already been released”, he explained.

Pigai is urging the state to be fair in applying the early release policy and free Papuan political prisoners and activists detained for articulating Papua’s problems. “The state must release these Papuan students and activists”, he asserted.

Speaking separately, Papua Regional House of Representatives (DPRP) legislator Laurenzus Kadepa made a similar call for the policy to be followed up by the related parties.

“With the regulation and decision by the Menkumham for the sake of preventing the spread of the corona virus, the Papuan chief public prosecutor and other related parties should immediately release Papuan prisoners who up until this day are still being held in prisons in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, Jakarta and everywhere else”, said Kadepa on Wednesday April 1.

Kadepa hopes that under the Minister of Justice policy related parties will immediately follow up on this and release Papuan political prisoners. “They should also be treated the same like other prisoners for the sake of preventing Covid-19 infections”, he said.

Kadepa said that the central and regional governments, along with the regional police and chief public prosecutor should be able to understand the latest situation after Indonesia has been it by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“All of the Papua tapols involved in the anti-racist actions that are undergoing legal proceedings must be protected from the dangers of Covid-19. They should be repatriated immediately and if possible released unconditionally”, he said.

Earlier, Amnesty International Indonesia along with 29 other civil society organisations urged the Indonesian government to clarify the status of Papuan political prisoners in the midst of the Covid-19 threat who appear to have been ignored under the Justice and Human Rights Ministry’s policy of releasing 30,000 adult and juvenile prisoners.

Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid said that it is not yet clear under the new policy whether or not Papuan political prisoners will also be released. According to Hamid, the policy does not provide any certainty for Papuan political prisoners.

It is because of this that the central government is being urged to take a fair position and not discriminate in the application of the policy. Papuan political prisoners who have been charged with makar for peacefully expressing their views both in Papua and outside of Papua must be released from jail.

According to a press release received by Suara Papua, the prosecution of these Papuan political prisoners is being pushed through. They are entitled to their right to health so based on the aim of protecting their health and a sense of justice, they should all be released unconditionally.

As of Friday April 3, at least 5,556 convicts have been released. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights estimates that as a result of this policy decision at least 30,000 convicts will be released in total.

[Slightly abridged translation by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Semua Tapol Papua Harus Dibebaskan”.]