By Galih Gumelar in Jakarta
A panel of judges at the Central Jakarta District Court have found six activists guilty of committing treasonous acts for holding a protest in support of Papuan independence in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta in last August.
The bench handed prison sentences to the activists – Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-West Papua) spokesperson Surya Anta and students Charles Kossay, Deno Tabuni, Isay Wenda, Ambrosius Mulait and Arina Elopere – during a virtual verdict hearing on Friday afternoon.
All activists were handed a nine-month prison sentence, except for Wenda who was punished with eight months’ imprisonment.
“All defendants are found guilty of a collective act of treason,” said presiding judge Agustinus Setyo Wahyu reading the verdict during the session.
The sentence is lower than the one year and five months in prison demanded by prosecutors.
Elopere, the one female accused, was found guilty of waving the banned Bintang Kejora (Morning Star) flag, which has come to symbolise the Papuan independence movement. She also danced and sang a song with the lyrics, “We are not red and white [the colours of the Indonesian flag],” during the protest on August 28 last year.
The bench also found Tabuni guilty of treason in the form of a speech at the same protest, where he demanded that the government immediately hold a Papuan independence referendum.
Sentence reduced for two
Elopere and Tabuni will only serve one month in prison as the bench decided to cut their sentence given that they had served a period of detention during the investigation, which started in September last year.
The remaining activists were found guilty of attending the protest and voicing their opinions over demanding the independence referendum for Papuans.
The defendants’ lawyer, Oky Wiratama, said she was disappointed with the verdicts and questioned the process.
“[The verdict stated that] treasonous acts have pros and cons in addition to containing political substance, so the treason charges can be misused by the government to oppress its citizens.”
“If the judges were in doubt, I think the best way to resolve the case would have been to not impose a prison sentence for the defendants. They should be free of charges,” Wiratama told The Jakarta Post after the trial.
She added her team would deliberate the case for seven days before deciding whether to appeal.
Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid echoed Oky, saying the treason charges might have been misused by the government against individuals who should never have been arrested or detained in the first place.
“The six who were sentenced today did nothing but attend a peaceful protest, enjoying their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. It is appalling that they had been in detention since August 2019, awaiting a verdict on such blatantly abusive charges,” Hamid said in a statement.
He urged the government to immediately release the activists.
Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly were rights protected under international law and the Constitution, Hamid added.
“No one should ever have to suffer this treatment for peacefully attending a protest, and it is high time that Indonesia stops criminalising Papuans under treason provisions.”
Jakarta Post articles are republished by the Pacific Media Centre and Pacific Media Watch with permission.