Wednesday, February 21, 2007

NGO claims peaceful Papuan separatists attacked

The Human Rights Watch lobby group in New York, USA, claims at least 18 Papuans are serving sentences in Indonesian jails "simply for peaceful acts of freedom of expression and opinion" in violation of international law and Indonesia’s international legal obligations. The 42-page report, “Protest and Punishment: Political Prisoners in Papua,” argues that the Indonesian government uses criminal law to punish individuals who peacefully advocate for independence in Indonesia's New Guinea provinces of Papua and Papua Barat (West Papua) which they refer to collectively as Papua.

“Indonesia claims to have become a democracy, but democracies don’t put people in prison for peaceful expression,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Real freedom of expression, assembly and association are still in short supply for political activists in Papua.”

Given as an example is Linus Hiluka who, in June 2000, was charged with treason and spreading hatred due to his connection with a separatist organization, the Baliem Papua Panel. According to the report, at no point was Hiluka accused of any violent or criminal activity but he was convicted and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment.

Another example: On 26 May 2005, Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage were found guilty of rebellion and spreading hatred against the government because they conducted peaceful demonstrations on 1 December 2004 to mark what separatists commemorate as Papua’s national day. For these acts, they were sentenced to 15 years’ and 10 years’ imprisonment respectively.

In “Protest and Punishment,” Human Rights Watch states it only included cases where the defendant was convicted for peaceful expression. There are many other cases in Papua where individuals have been charged with or convicted of crimes against the security of the state where it was alleged that the defendant engaged in or advocated violence. Human Rights Watch did not include these cases in the report, even those cases where the allegations of violent activity or advocacy did not appear to be readily supported by the evidence.

Human Rights Watch also claimed that severe government-imposed restrictions on access to Papua mean that it is difficult to identify all such cases or to ascertain the full extent of the human rights situation in Papua. “Until Papua is opened fully to scrutiny there will be doubt and confusion about the extent of abuse there,” said Adams. “As we saw in Aceh, closed conditions create breeding grounds for unchecked abuse. If the government has nothing to hide, it should open Papua to the outside world.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Indonesian government to immediately release all political prisoners in Papua and to drop any outstanding charges against individuals awaiting trial. Human Rights Watch also urged the government to repeal the vague and broad laws criminalizing the spreading of “hatred” and treason to ensure that no further prosecutions can take place in violation of international law.

However, according to Reuters, Indonesia denies any systematic rights abuses. "Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono said last year there were some "violations" in Papua by rogue elements in the military but insisted these acts were perpetrated by individuals. He also suggested the media exaggerated problems in Papua," the newsagency's Ed Davies commented.

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