Papuan ‘Political Prisoners’ on Hunger Strike After Denied Access to Lawyers

Papuan ‘Political Prisoners’ on Hunger Strike After Denied Access to Lawyers

Jakarta Globe, 12 December 2010
By: Nivell Rayda


New York-based Human Rights Watch has demanded an explanation for the transfer of two Papuan “political prisoners” from Jayapura’s notorious Abepura Prison to local police headquarter, saying the men should be able to contest the arrest and see their families.

Filep Karma, 51, and Buchtar Tabuni, 31, both serving jail terms for, respectively, treason and inciting hatred toward the government, were transferred on Dec. 6 three days after a prisoner was shot and killed in his hideout after a prison break.

Both men were accused of inciting a subsequent riot in Abepura after news of the killing reached inmates and then arrested. They have men denied access to their lawyers and are on a hunger strike in protest against the death.

Elaine Pearson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, said that police’s refusal violated the United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, which stipulates that prisoners must be allowed to consult their legal council without delay or censorship.

“Prisoners have rights too, and ignoring those rights is no way to celebrate Human Rights Day,” Pearson said. “The authorities should explain why Filep Karma and Buchtar Tabuni have been thrown in a police lock-up and denied access to lawyers.”

Nazaruddin Burnas, head of the Papua office of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights confirmed that Karma and Tabuni were under investigation for their alleged roles in the riot.

“Once police conclude their investigation and if they find nothing against them, they will be returned to Abepura,” he said.

Ridha Saleh, chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said that he had also been denied access to Karma and Tabuni.

“Police told us that we should contact prison officials, which we have done. But they still wouldn’t let us in,” he said.

Ridha demanded police grant both men access to legal representation and their families.

Cynthia Warwe, a close friend of Karma, said both men had refused food for several days in protest following the death of prisoner Heron Wetipo.

“I haven’t been able to see them, so I am gravely concerned about their health and well-being,” she said.

Jayapura Police Chief Adjutant Chief Comr. Imam Setiawan said they believed Hiron and five other escapees were armed when they raided the hideout. One other prisoner was arrested and four others escaped.

The incident is the fourth reported breakout from Abepura this year. In May, 18 prisoners took advantage of a brawl between prison guards to make their getaway.

A month later, 26 inmates escaped after guards failed to show up for work over a labor dispute. In October, two more fled.

According to HRW, Karma is six years into a 15-year sentence for treason following a Papuan independence rally.

Buchtar Tabuni, a leader of the West Papua National Committee, was jailed for three years for organizing protests against the shooting of his relative, Opinus Tabuni.