Amnesty Demands Release Of Papuan Jailed for Protest

Jakarta Globe, Human rights group Amnesty International called on Thursday for the immediate release of a pro-independence activist imprisoned in West Papua for raising a banned flag in a peaceful demonstration last year.

Melkianus Bleskadit was sentenced on Aug. 18 to two years in prison by the Manokwari District Court. He had organized a peaceful protest in the West Papua capital on Dec. 14.

“His sentence highlights the continuing use of repressive legislation to criminalize peaceful political activities in the province,” the rights group said in a statement.

The rights group said Melkianus was among a group of activists who participated in a peaceful protest against injustice and human rights violations by Indonesian security forces.

The protest march ended at Penerangan field in Manokwari where other political activists had gathered to commemorate the Dec. 1 anniversary of the 1961 proclamation of the intention to create the Republic of West Papua.

During the ceremony the banned Morning Star flag, a symbol of Papuan independence, was raised.

Police in Manokwari arrested seven people, including a priest, Daniel Yenu, and five students, John Wilson Wader, Penehas Serongon, Yance Sekenyap, Alex Duwiri and John Raweyai.

Yenu was sentenced to seven months and 16 days in prison on Tuesday, but was immediately released because he had already spent more than eight months in detention.

The trials of the five students are ongoing.

All seven men were charged with “rebellion” under Article 106 of the Criminal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. They were also charged with “incitement” under Article 160.

Amnesty claimed that the men were not provided access to a defense lawyer.

The Indonesian Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Indonesia is a party, guarantee the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, association and peaceful assembly.

Amnesty argued that the ban on gatherings at which the Morning Star flag was raised constituted an illegitimate restriction on freedom of expression and association as set out in the ICCPR.

Amnesty said there were at least 90 political activists in the restive provinces of Maluku, Papua and West Papua who have been imprisoned solely for their peaceful political activities.

The group considers them to be prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

“Amnesty International takes no position whatsoever on the political status of any province of Indonesia, including calls for independence,” the group said.

“However, the organization believes that the right to freedom of expression includes the right to peacefully advocate referendums, independence or any other political solutions that do not involve incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”