Papuan activist Victor Yeimo denies charge of inciting 2019 anti-racist riots

Suara Papua – May 23, 2021
Victor Yeimo following his arrest by the Nemangkawi Task Force in Jayapura – May 9, 2021 (Antara)

Markus You, Nabire – With the exception of a mass protest against racism on the grounds of the Papua governor's office on August 19, 2019, Victor Yeimo was never involved in the subsequent protest action on August 29 in Jayapura city which ended in a riot.

Yeimo, the West Papua National Committee’s (KNPB) international spokesperson who is currently being detained at the Papua Mobile Brigade (Brimob) detention centre on charges of makar (treason, subversion, rebellion), has defended himself against the charges laid by police.

When he was visited by Papuan Regional House of Representatives (DPRP) Special Autonomy Faction Chairperson John NR Gobai and Papua People's Council (MRP) member Nicolaus Degei at the Brimob detention centre on Tuesday May 18, Yeimo related to them what actually happened at the two anti-racist protest actions in response to the racist incident in Surabaya, East Java, on August 15-17, 2019.

Yeimo said that the speech he gave at the anti-racism action on August 19 was purely at the request of the Papuan people who did not accept the racist slurs against Papuan students by reactionary social organisations and rogue law enforcement officials in the City of Heroes as Surabaya is known.

"Everyone should actually be grateful because at the time I succeeded in keeping control of tens of thousands of people protesting racism in Jayapura city on August 19, 2019. Aside from this action, there were two more, but I didn't take part in the action on August 29, 2019", he said when speaking with Gobai and Degei.

Gobai and Degei also met with senior Papua regional police officials to discuss the arrest and detention of the KNPB spokesperson. They also had an opportunity to speak directly with Yeimo about his condition when he was detained at the Papua regional police detention centre and after he was moved to Brimob.

After being arrested by the Nemangkawi Task Force near Tanah Hitam in Abepura, Jayapura city, on the evening of Sunday May 9, Yeimo was held and questioned at the Papua regional police up until he was charged under multiple articles.

Yeimo said it is not just the ordinary Papuan people that are targeted, racist slurs have also been experienced by Papuans who hold government positions, including Papuans who are members of the TNI (Indonesian military) and the Indonesian police (Polri).

"During the anti-racist protest action on August 19, 2019, I did indeed take the microphone and spoke emphatically. Yes, it was at the request of the Papuan people who were present at the anti-racist protest", he related.

Yeimo claimed that he instructed everyone at the action not to break the law or act in an anarchic manner. He said this several times and everyone followed his instructions. The result was that the mass action proceeded smoothly and in an orderly manner until people disbanded and went home.

The KNPB activists confirmed there was a statement during his political speech during the anti-racist August 19 action. According to Yeimo, it was a spontaneous expression made as a Papuan who felt offended by the racist language.

"The political speech I gave at the time was an expression of Papuan indigenous people's feelings who were angry when the Papuan students were called monkeys during the racist incident in Surabaya, on August 16, 2019. So, my remarks at the first action were an expression of this because everyone was emotional about the racist language", he said.

Because he was not at the anti-racist protest on August 29, Yeimo strongly denies the charges of his involvement. He asserted that the accusations are a public lie being used to justify his arrest and detention.

"Everybody already knows that I didn't take part in the second protest action. I was not involved in any way. Rather, I asked all the activists not to take to the streets again because I had picked up that the situation had changed by then. So if they say I was involved it's just lies", said Yeimo.

In order to counter this lie, he is challenging the police to show evidence of his involvement in the August 29 action which ended in a riot.

"Where is the evidence, if I was arrested and charged as the instigator of the August 29, 2019 action? I wasn't involved, right. Not as a participant at the action, I also never gave a speech. If then there are photographs or videos, it's the result of [digital] editing. I was not involved in any way in the second demonstration", he asserted.

Yeimo gave the same testimony to DPRP member Laurenzus Kadepa when he visited the Brimob detention centre on Wednesday May 19.

Never involved

Alexander Gobay, a former Papuan political prisoner (Tapol), also confirmed Yeimo's defense because indeed he was never involved in the anti-racist protest action on August 29 in Jayapura.

Gobay admitted to being shocked that Yeimo has been accused of being involved in the follow up actions which have ended in him being prosecuted.

"It isn't true that Victor Yeimo was involved in the August 29, 2019 riots. Victor Yeimo didn't take part. Me and six other Papuan activists were arrested and charged with alleged makar over the incident [too], we were even tried [and sentenced to prison] by the Balikpapan District Court", said Gobay.

The former Jayapura University of Science and Technology (USTJ) Student Executive Council (BEM) chairperson explained, "There are absolutely no grounds for Victor Yeimo's arrest and detention in relation to the anti-racist protest action on August 29, 2019. It's not true. We seven have paid our debt over this case in Balikpapan. Don't fabricating things again. Stop reviving the Papua anti-racism case".

Gobay is therefore calling on the Papuan regional police to immediately release Yeimo.

Arrest government officials too

A similar statement was also made by Buchtar Tabuni, the deputy chairperson of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua's (ULMWP) Legislative Committee.

"Victor Yeimo should be immediately released from jail because he was never involved in the anti-racist protest action on August 29, 2019", said Tabuni as quoted by on Friday May 21.

Tabuni is of the view that if Yeimo is to being detained and charged, the police should arrest all of the Papuan government officials who were at the August 19 demonstration.

The chairperson of the West Papua National Parliament stated that Yeimo's arrest by the Nemangkawi Task Force was misplaced. According to Tabuni, all of the government officials who attended the anti-racism action should be arrested.

"The West Papua National Parliament regrets the police's actions in arresting Mr Victor Yeimo. The Papua Coalition for Law Enforcement and Human Rights has already stated that the arrest was not in accordance with the criminal procedural code. So, if the police of the Republic of Indonesia do not arrest the officials who were involved in the Papua anti-racism actions, then for the sake of justice, Victor Yeimo must be immediately and unconditionally released", he said.

Tabuni along with Agus Kossay (KNPB national chairperson) and Steven Itlay (KNPB Timika chairperson) were arrested over the August riots along with four students, namely Alexander Gobay, former Cenderawasih University BEM chairperson Ferry Kombo and USTJ students Hengky Hilapok and Irwanus Uropmabin.

"We six [sic] were tried under the makar laws by the Balikpapan District Court in East Kalimantan. We were sentenced and the racism case is over. Why has Victor Yeimo only now been arrested on charges of being involved in an anti-racism action? It's not right. Release Victor Yeimo immediately", asserted Tabuni.

[Abridged translation by James Balowski. The second part of the article covering lack of access to Yeimo, international attention the case has attracted, the designation of the OPM as terrorists and comments by the police on his treatment in detention were not translated. The original title of the article was "Victor Yeimo Tak Pernah Terlibat dalam Aksi Anti Rasisme 29 Agustus 2019".]