Detained West Papuan activist at risk of ‘dying in jail’, UN expert warns

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Papuan political prisoners protest
Protesters in Jakarta highlight Indonesia's political prisoners from West Papua. Image: Jakarta Post

Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

A United Nations expert has urged Indonesia to provide proper medical care to a Papuan independence activist to “keep him from dying in prison”, after reports emerged that his health had deteriorated, reports The Jakarta Post.

Victor Yeimo, 39, the international spokesman for the West Papua National Committee, was arrested in Jayapura in May.

He has been charged with treason and inciting violence and social unrest in relation to the pro-independence protests that swept the region for several weeks in 2019. Yeimo has denied the charges.

His trial went ahead in August despite repeated requests from his lawyer for a delay on medical grounds.

“I’ve seen it before: States deny medical care to ailing, imprisoned human rights defenders, which results in serious illness or death,” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“Indonesia must take urgent steps to ensure the fate does not await Mr. Yeimo.”

Political trial adjourned
The human rights watchdog TAPOL reports that Yeimo’s political trial was adjourned by the District Court of Jayapura on 31 August 2021 until he was declared physically fit by the hospital.

On the same day, the court also dismissed his pretrial motion, challenging his arrest and detention for violating criminal procedural law, on the grounds that the main trial had begun.

Victor Yeimo was finally hospitalised on August 30 despite the court having issued an order to hospitalise him since the evening of August 27.

The prosecutors defied the court’s order, which caused uproar among the public.

Papuan leader Victor Yeimo
Accused Papuan activist Victor Yeimo … his health has been a concern since the beginning of his detention in May 2021. Image: Foreign Correspondent

Dozens of people protested in front of the prosecutors’ office and their residence on August 28.

Hundreds of people protested again at the prosecutors’ office on August 30 before the prosecutors finally honoured the court order and took Yeimo to hospital.

Victor Yeimo’s health has been a concern since the beginning of his detention in May 2021.

Health deteriorated
His health deteriorated as he was placed in isolation and did not receive proper food or any medication.

Yeimo’s lawyers repeatedly asked that he be treated but were denied the request by the authorities. He was afforded only perfunctory medical tests on August 10 and 20.

During his first and second hearings, he told the court that he had never been told the results of these tests and had never been given any medicines or prescriptions.

He pleaded for help to the judges.

The prosecutors, having withheld the medical results stating that Victor Yeimo must be hospitalised, finally shared the medical results dated August 20 with Victor Yeimo’s lawyers on August 26.

On the same day, the court issued an order for Victor Yeimo to be treated at the hospital from 9 am to 6 pm the following day.

The prosecutors only appeared to take him to the hospital at 4 pm. At the hospital, Victor Yeimo pleaded to stay, but was dragged out by armed police despite still being on a drip.

At 11 pm, the court issued an order for Yeimo to be hospitalised.

Crackdown on peaceful protests
Peaceful protests demanding Victor Yeimo be released in seven cities across Indonesia during the period of 15 to 30 August 2021 were subjected to excessive use of force resulting in the death of protestor Ferianus Asso in Yahukimo, 104 arrests, and 40 people who were known to have been injured.

Those arrested have all been released. Internet freedom watchdogs found that the internet in Jayapura was shut down for three hours at around the time of Victor Yeimo’s trial.

Following TAPOL’s submission a week after Victor Yeimo’s arrest, the United Nations  Special Rapporteurs questioned the Indonesian government on the matter on June 30. The document was made public on August 31.

“We regret the government of Indonesia’s response which has distorted the facts. UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders, the Right to Freedom of Assembly, the Right to Health, and Anti-Racism yesterday have issued a press release calling for Indonesia to provide Victor Yeimo with ‘the basic care he so desperately needs’, said TAPOL.

“The UN experts also concluded that his prison conditions may have amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Given the gravity of the situation and the treason charges that Yeimo is facing, TAPOL said it would provide a summary of each of his trial sessions so that they could be properly and transparently monitored.

“We would encourage international organisations and interested experts to actively monitor his trial once it has been resumed,” TAPOL said.

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