Releasing Papua Political Prisoners ‘Not the Answer’

Releasing Papua Political Prisoners ‘Not the Answer’


Nivell Rayda, 20 May 2010


Freeing political prisoners in Papua is a good gesture but would not address the key problems in the restive region, Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

He was commenting on remarks by Justice Minister Patrialis Akbar that several Papuan political detainees would be pardoned by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Andreas said gestures such as this and last weekend’s granting of Indonesian citizenship to former Free Papua Movement (OPM) leader Nicholas Jouwe, who had been living in exile in the Netherlands since 1960, were not enough and more action was needed to solve the problem.

“In East Timor, it was a UN-sponsored referendum. In Aceh, it was the Helsinki agreement with assistance from the EU. Let’s learn from them for Papua,” he said.
Patrialis this week inspected the Abepura Penitentiary in Jayapura and interviewed the inmates. He said he was shocked to learn that some political detainees were jailed because they had joined in a peaceful rally against the government. “We must make a distinction between detainees who were just expressing their freedom of speech and members of the armed separatist movement,” Patrialis said on Thursday.

The inmates eligible for a pardon were those who had joined a rally against the local government’s use of Rp 33 trillion ($3.6 billion) that had come from the central government under the regional autonomy policy. “We are writing a report along with the pardon recommendation. I hope the report can be forwarded to the president soon,” Patrialis said.

The minister, however, said those who had participated in armed conflict and those charged with raising the banned Morning Star flag, a symbol of the OPM, would not be among the inmates up for pardon.

Usman Hamid, chairman of the National Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said even though Indonesia had ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2006, political activists were still charged with Articles 106 and 110 on treason in the Criminal Code.

“These are the same articles used to silence critics of the Dutch colonial rule and to imprison political activists during the Suharto regime,” Usman told the Jakarta Globe, in reference to former President Suharto.

The existing Criminal Code was adopted by the Indonesian government in 1946 and was based on Dutch colonial law established in 1918.
“The government should be consistent in implementing the ICCPR agreement and stop the persecution of those involved in peaceful protests,” he said.

The covenant guarantees people’s right to freely determine their political ideology, as well as the freedom of movement and speech.

Patrialis inspected Abepura Penitentiary in the wake of a riot that was initiated by prison guards protesting the transfer of former warden Anthonius Ayorbaba. Two escapees have been caught, while the other 16 are believed to have fled to Papua New Guinea.