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Conviction of West Papuan independence activists breaches human rights


Joint Statement of HRLC and ILWP

Just prior to its Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council, Indonesia’s commitment to democracy and free speech has been questioned with the conviction of Papuan activists, Forkorus Yaboisembut, Edison Waromi, August Makbrowen Senay, Dominikus Sorabut and Selpius Bobii (the “Jayapura 5”) for treason. All five were convicted and sentenced to 3 years in prison for expressing their political views at last year’s Third Papuan Congress, a peaceful assembly of indigenous West Papuans.

The activists were found guilty of treason under Article 106 of the Indonesian Criminal Code. This provision, used regularly in Papua to arrest and detain activists and to criminalise peaceful political activity, is inconsistent with the free speech protections found under Article 28E of the Indonesian Constitution and is contrary to Indonesia’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Phil Lynch, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), said “The prosecution and conviction of people exercising fundamental rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly is an affront to democracy and the rule of law.”

“Indonesia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2006. In doing so it pledged to uphold the rights of all persons to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. These fundamental human rights must be recognised and respected by Indonesia.”

Mr Lynch said that, “With Indonesia due to front the UN Human Rights Council for a periodic review of its human rights record, the global community should call on the government to fully and faithfully live up to its international human rights obligations. The exercise of democratic rights and freedoms must be protected by law, not criminalised.”

According to Jennifer Robinson of International Lawyers for West Papua, “The prosecution of activists for peacefully expressing their political views has no place in a modern democracy. The people of West Papuan people have the right to free speech under international law, which includes their right to declare their desire for self-determination and independence from Indonesia”.

Ms Robinson said that ,”The Jayapura 5 are prisoners of conscience.”

International Lawyers for West Papua and the Human Rights Law Centre urge Indonesia to:

  • Ensure the immediate and unconditional release of the Jayapura 5, as well as all political prisoners in Papua being held pursuant to Article 106 of the Criminal Code. Tapol, the Indonesian Human Rights Campaign, reports that as many as 30 indigenous Papuans are awaiting trial or serving time for makar and other related offences.
  • Repeal Article 106 of the Criminal Code. The continued suppression of freedom of expression through the criminalisation of political activities poses a serious threat to civil society and to democracy and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Ms Robinson said that, “These steps would be an important indicator that Indonesia, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, takes seriously its international obligations to fully respect universally recognised human rights.”

ILWP and the HRLC are also concerned about the threats and intimidation suffered by the lawyers defending the Jayapura 5, in particular Mr Gustav Kawer. Mr Kawer has been threatened with criminal prosecution for comments made during the course of cross examination in these proceedings, including his questioning about police and military mistreatment and torture of protestors at the Third Congress.

According to Ms Robinson, “The prosecution of any lawyer for statements made to the court during the course of proceedings amounts to interference in their ability to exercise their professional duties and is contrary to the Law on Advocates No 18/2003 in Indonesia and the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.” The persecution of the Jayapura 5 lawyer also constitutes interference with their right to a fair trial protected under the ICCPR. She said that, “We urge Indonesia to drop this criminal investigation into Mr Kawer and his colleagues and to desist from intimidating defence counsel in order to ensure that the Jayapura 5′s right to a fair trial is guaranteed.”

For further comments:

Phil Lynch, Human Rights Law Centre, on + 61 (0)438 776 433 (Australia)

Jennifer Robinson, ILWP, on +447767707566 (UK)