HRW demands police drop treason charges against Papuan activist Yeimo

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Victor Yeimo arrested for calling for an independence referendum
West Papua National Committee (KNPB) spokesperson Victor Yeimo ... arrested for calling for an independence referendum. Image: Giras Pasopati/CNN Indonesia

Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on the Indonesian police to drop politically motivated treason charges against West Papua National Committee (KNPB) spokesperson Victor Yeimo.

Yeimo was arrested for calling for an independence referendum for Papua which he expressed in 2019 during the anti-racism protests and riots in Papua and West Papua province.

Human Rights Watch said that the Indonesian government had discriminated against indigenous Melanesians in Papua and West Papua for decades.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is being asked to publicly direct security forces involved in operations in Papua to act in accordance with international law to be held to account for violence there.

“Indonesian police should investigate the deadly violence and arson attacks in Papua in 2019 but not use that as a pretext to crack down on peaceful activists,” said HRW Asia director Brad Adams in a statement.

In August 2019, Papuans held protests in at least 30 cities across Indonesia in response to a racist attack against Papuans at a student dormitory in the East Java provincial capital of Surabaya.

Videos show soldiers shouting words such as “monkeys” at the students. Police also fired teargas into the dormitory and arrested scores of students.

Triggered riots
The polemic over this triggered riots in the form of attacks, looting and the torching of public facilities in Jayapura, Manokwari, Sorong and Wamena.

In the aftermath of this, HRW noted that at least 43 protest Papuan protest leaders and KNPB activists were charged with treason and sentenced despite the fact that they were not involved in violence.

HRW said that it takes no position on Papuan claims to self-determination, but supports everyone’s right, including independence supporters, to express their political views peacefully without fear of arrest or other forms of reprisal.

“The Indonesian authorities should ensure that all security force operations in Papua are carried out in accordance with the law and that peaceful activists and other civilians are not targeted,” added Adams.

Separately, lawyers from the Coalition for Upholding the Law and Human Rights in Papua said that Yeimo’s arrest on Saturday, May 9, was not in accordance with arrest procedures under Law Number 8/1981 on the Criminal Procedural Code.

This is because the arrest was made on that day while the warrant was received by Coalition lawyers more than a week later on May 19 at 6 pm at the Mobile Brigade Command Headquarters (Mako Brimob) investigators office in Kotaraja, Abepura, Jayapura.

“The coalition could not assist or directly accompany Victor F. Yeimo yet he is not just being charged under Article 106 of the Criminal Code (KUHP) or the articles on makar [treason, subversion, rebellion] but he is also charged under Article 170 Paragraph (1) of the KUHP where in the process lawyers can sit alongside their client,” said the Coalition’s litigation coordinator Emanuel Gobay.

Prevented from helping
Gobay also stated that they were prevented from assisting Yeimo because they were unable to directly accompany him. Yeimo was then transferred from the Papua regional police to the Mako Brimob without the Coalition’s knowledge.

At the Mako Brimob, meanwhile, Yeimo is said to have been placed in a cell far away from any sources of fresh air and is said to have asked prison guards to move him to a more comfortable cell.

Furthermore, Gobay revealed that his client also asked police why only he had been arrested if the pretext for the arrest was because he gave a speech during an anti-racism protest on August 19, 2019.

“Many other people also gave speeches (during the action) such as women figures, religious figures, youth figures and so forth. Aside from this [the action] was also attuned by the Papuan provincial governor, the speaker of the MPR [Papua People’s Council], members of the DPRP [Papuan Regional House of Representatives], several SKPD [Regional Administrative Work Unit] members as well as OAP [indigenous Papuans] and non-OAP. But why am I the only one that has been arrested and charged while the others haven’t,” said Yeimo as conveyed by Gobay.

Yeimo was a fugitive from the law who had been on the police wanted persons list (DPO) since 2019.

He is alleged to have committed crimes against state security and makar and or broadcasting reports or issued statements which could give rise to public unrest and or broadcasting news which is unreliable or news which is excessive or incomplete.

He is also alleged to have insulted the Indonesian national flag, language and state symbols as well as the national anthem and or incitement to commit a crime.

Koman named as lawyer
In London, Pelagio Doutel of the Indonesian human rights advocacy group TAPOL said UN rapporteurs should call for Yeimo’s immediate and unconditional release.

An urgent appeal on behalf of Yeimo has been submitted by TAPOL and lawyer Veronica Koman to the UN Special Procedures mechanisms of the Human Rights Council.

Yeimo had been living in exile in Papua New Guinea since the crackdown against the so-called Papuan Uprising and had recently returned to his homeland.

“Lawyers have been prevented from accompanying Mr Yeimo during interrogations,” said Pelagio Doutel.

“No family member or anyone else has been able to pay him a visit. He is practically in solitary confinement and currently arbitrarily detained at the Police’s Mobile Brigade Headquarters (Mako Brimob) in Abepura. He was moved there without prior notice to his lawyers.”

Veronica Koman reported that “Papua’s police chief Mathius Fakhiri has publicly indicated that extra charges will likely be put against Victor Yeimo until he ‘gets old’ in prison.

‘History of torture’
“Victor Yeimo has a history of being subjected to torture. Therefore we will be in close communication with UN officials to update them on developments including additional interrogation and maltreatment.”

To support his lawyers on the ground, Yeimo has appointed Koman as his international lawyer.

Veronica Koman is the international advocacy coordinator of the Jayapura-based Association of Human Rights Lawyers for Papua (PAHAM Papua).

Translated by James Balowski for IndoLeft News. The original title of the article was “HRW Minta Polisi Cabut Tuduhan Makar Jubir KNPB Victor Yeimo”. The Human Rights Watch statement in English is here.

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