Local advocacy groups call on NZ to press Indonesia to free accused activist

KNPB international spokesperson Victor Yeimo in court
KNPB international spokesperson Victor Yeimo (bottom left) in the Jayapura District Court this week ... he declared his innocence of charges. Image: Suara Papua

Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

A national network of groups supporting freedom and justice for West Papua has called on Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta to condemn Indonesian charges of treason against accused West Papuan Victor Yeimo.

They have called for the release of Yeimo, who this week rejected charges against him in a court hearing in the Papuan provincial capital of Jayapura.

Spokesperson Catherine Delahunty, a former Green Party MP, described the charges against West Papua National Committee (KNPB) international spokesperson as “trumped up” and said Yeimo had suffered a “serious health crisis”.

“In addition to taking a strong position in support of Ukraine at this terrible moment we are asking Nanaia Mahuta to stand up for human rights in our neighbourhood,” she said in a statement.

“Last week Victor Yeimo was charged with treason for participating in an antiracism peaceful protest on August 19, 2019.

“He also spoke against the abuse of West Papuan students, which included hours of being harangued and called ‘monkeys’ before being beaten and arrested.

“That is his only ‘crime’, but for that he has been detained for ten months, suffered a serious health crisis and is now in court facing trumped up charges of treason,” Delahunty said.

Yeimo charged with makar
In Jayapura, the preliminary court hearing against Yeimo was held at the Jayapura District Court in Abepura, Papua, on last Monday, reports Suara Papua.

During the hearing, the public prosecutor read out the indictment in which he charged Yeimo under the makar (treason, subversion, rebellion) articles.

The defence believes that the charges are excessive because what happened in August 2019 was a response to the racism which was “rooted in the nature of the Indonesian population against Papuans”.

Victor Yeimo
Papuan campaigner Victor Yeimo in handcuffs … he is international spokesperson for the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), a peaceful civil society disobedience organisation. Image: Tribunnews

The prosecution said that during the protest actions which ended in riots on August 29, 2019, there was verbal as well as written involvement of the defendant along with his colleague the chairperson of the KNPB, Agus Kossay, in demonstrations which were facilitated by the chairpeople of the Student Executive Council (BEM) in Jayapura.

“They [the chairpersons of the West Papua National Parliament (PNWP), the Federal Republic of West Papua (NRFPB), the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL) and the Free West Papua Campaign (FWPC), together with the defendant], called for, and took part in committing the act of makar with the maximum [aim] of all or part of the country’s territory [separating from Indonesia],” said prosecutor Andrianus Y. Tomana in reading out the charge sheet in the courtroom.

According to the prosecutor, Yeimo was being indicted for crimes under Article 106 of the Criminal Code (KUHP) in conjunction with Article 55 Paragraph (1) on the crime of makar, Article 110 Paragraph 1 of the KUHP on criminal conspiracy to commit a crime, and Article 110 Paragraph 2 on endeavoring to mobilise people or call on people to commit a crime.

In reply, Yeimo admitted that he had been involved as a participant in the anti-racist demonstration on August 19, 2019. However, the protest happened without problems and after it finished the protesters returned home.

‘I was arrested because of racism’
“I was arrested only because of the racism case, indeed I was involved and it’s true there were speeches.

“But it was not just me that gave speeches, the DPRP [Papua Regional House of Representatives] spoke, the governor spoke, all of the Papuan people spoke at the time. So if I’m being tried, why aren’t they being tried?” he asked.

Yeimo explained that he attended along with other Papuan people in order to oppose and to fight against the racism and this opposition was conveyed peacefully at the Papua governor’s office.

Delahunty said the Yeimo case had attracted a strong response from UN Special Rapporteurs, but in letters to the West Papua Action Network the New Zealand government only said it was “concerned” and that its officials “raise the case”.

The European Union Commission has called for Indonesia to allow their high commissioners to visit West Papua, specifically naming the Victor Yeimo case as a human rights issue.

“Our Foreign Minister needs to support the growing international calls for justice for Victor,” Delahunty said.

“She needs to condemn this outrage and call for the treason charges to be dropped and Victor Yeimo to be immediately released.”

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