Family of Papuan treason defendant says he’s being persecuted for activism

KBR – June 9, 2020
Morning Star flag flown at rally in front of State Palace in Jakarta – August 28, 2019 (KBR)

Arjuna Pademme, Jakarta – The family of Papuan treason defendant Buchtar Tabuni says the 17 year prison sentence being demanding by the public prosecutor is unjust.

During a hearing at the Balikpapan District Court in East Kalimantan on Tuesday June 2, the Papuan chief public prosecutor demanded that the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) Legislative Committee Deputy Chairperson be sentenced to 17 years in jail.

In its indictment, the prosecution said that the defendant had been legally proven and convincingly found guilty of crimes proscribed under article 106 of the Criminal Code (KUHP) in conjunction with Article 55 Paragraph 1 of the KUHP. These makar (treason, subversion, rebellion) articles are subject to maximum sentence of life imprisonment with a minimum 20 years served before parole.

Tabuni’s wife Debora Awom said that the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) general chairperson was arrested and charged for doing something that he did not do.

According to Awom, Tabuni was arrested following actions protesting racism against Papuans which ended in riots in Jayapura city in late August 2019. Tabuni, who is being held at the Balikpapan prison in East Kalimantan along with six other defendants have been charged with makar and public incitement.

Yet, said Awom, when there were two waves of demonstrations protesting racism in Jayapura city in August 2019, Tabuni never took part in them, let along coordinated the actions.

“Arrested and facing 17 years in prison, I feel that this is unjust. Pak [Mr] Buchtar never called on students or the KNPB to demonstrate against racism. Pak Buchtar never took part in the demos on the 19th and 29th (of August 2019)”, Awom told KBR.

The family suspects that Tabuni was arrested in relation to his campaigning for Papuan independence. The demonstrations against racism in Jayapura which ended in riots were simply used as a justification to prosecute the ULMWP activist.

This suspicion is supported by the prosecution’s case with the public prosecutor taking up the issue of makar which was allegedly committed by Tabuni several years ago on a number of occasions, including in 2008.

On October 15 Tabuni along with other KNPB activists were protesting in support of the launch of the International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP) in London.

But, according to Awom, Tabuni has already been arrested and sentenced over the case. Tabuni was arrested in early December 2008 in relation to the protest actions supporting the IPWP and faced a 10 year prison sentence.

Tabuni is a Papuan pro-independence activist who has been arrested and imprisoned on several occasions. He was once put on the police’s wanted person list (DPO) between 2013 and 2018 on charges of mobilising a KNPB protest in 2013 which ended in a clash with police. Later in 2018 however, the Jayapura municipal police declared that Tabuni was no longer on the wanted persons list.


In a similar case on April 24 a panel of judges at the Central Jakarta District Court handed down jail sentences to Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-WP) spokesperson Surya Anta and five other Papuan activists who were also charged with makar.

The other defendants were Charles Kossay, Ambrosius Mulait, Isay Wenda, Anes Tabuni and Arina Elopere. The judges sentenced five of them to nine months in prison while Isay Wenda was sentenced to eight months in jail.

The panel of judges found the six Papuan political prisoners guilty of committing makar after they held a protest action in front of the State Palace in Central Jakarta on August 28, 2019 in which the Morning Star independence flag was flown.

The action was a protest by students against racist slurs against Papuan students in East Java provincial capital of Surabaya on August 16.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Buchtar Tabuni Dituntut Kasus Makar 17 Tahun Penjara, Keluarga: Tidak Adil”.]