Rights Severely Curtailed in West Papua

United Press International, Norman Voss - The increasing number of arrests and
detentions on political grounds in the Papuan provinces of
Indonesia are a matter of grave concern. In recent months,
several incidents were reported in which indigenous Papuans were
arrested and charged with subversion and secession after
engaging in peaceful political protests.

For example, Buktar Tabuni was arrested on Dec. 3 last year
following a peaceful protest he had helped organize on Oct. 16.
He was charged under Articles 106, 110, 160, 212 and 216 of the
Indonesian Penal Code, despite the fact that he had conformed
with legal requirements regarding public protests.

Tabuni was later transferred to Abepura Prison, where he was
allegedly subjected to torture and ill-treatment.

Following Tabuni's arrest, other activists gathered lawfully at
Theys Eluay Memorial Park in Jayapura, Papua, to demand the
release of political prisoner Tabuni and the right to exercise
the freedoms of expression and assembly. On Dec. 17, Seblom
Sambom, one of the participants in the gathering, was also
arrested and faces charges under Article 216 for participating
in the protest on Oct. 16. Punishment may be up to 20 years

On Oct. 17, one day after the October protest, Yosias Syet was
found dead in his home. Syet was a known activist in Papua and
had helped in the preparation of the lawful protest the day
before. There is reason to believe that his murder was related
to the exercising of his right to freedom of expression and
assembly and that the security forces in Papua were involved in
his murder.

Since Indonesia took over sovereignty of the western half of the
Papuan island after a questionable referendum supervised by the
United Nations, many indigenous people have experienced a
deterioration of their livelihood due to mining activities,
exploitation of natural resources, transmigration of non-Papuans
into the region and a heavy military presence.

Protests by indigenous Papuans and attempts to exercise the
right to self-determination as promised in the U.N. handover of
the province have been answered with armed violence, including
massacres, in the past.

Not long ago, a political process was underway between Jakarta
and the indigenous Papuans. At that time, political acts were
treated as political acts and responded to with dialogue. Former
President B. J. Habibie, who was in office till 1999, held
meetings with Papuan representatives on the issue of

But the recent pattern has been different. Political protest is
addressed with arrests and the increasing use of charges of
subversion and treason, which was not the case before, although
the laws have not changed.

Even with the new autonomy law for West Papua, the peaceful
expression of political views is met with arrests and torture.
The climate for human rights defenders remains hostile and
activists are vulnerable to political arrest and prosecution.

The government of Indonesia is urged to suspend all arrests and
prosecutions resulting from persons exercising their right to
the freedom of expression of political views and the right of
assembly. The application of subversion and treason articles in
the penal code must stop. Many democracies do not even have such
articles, as such legislation denies freedom of conscience,
opinion and expression.

Are these cold war tactics? Has the reformation spirit of
political dialogue come to an end? All political prisoners and
prisoners of conscience must be released.