A West Papuan leader, defending himself against treason charges, has denounced “systemic racism” by Indonesian authorities in the Melanesian region in a court hearing.
Viktor Yeimo, the international spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), presented his defence statement — pledoi — in a hearing at the Jayapura Class 1A District Court in Papua Province last Thursday.
He claimed that the treason charge against him was discriminatory and had political undertones.
Yeimo also argued that the trial conducted at the Jayapura District Court had failed to provide evidence of any wrongdoing or violation of the law — let alone treason — on his part.
The accusation of treason against Yeimo was linked to his alleged involvement in the anti-racism protests in Jayapura City on August 19 and 29, 2019.
These protests were made to condemn derogatory remarks made towards Papuan students at the Kamasan III Student Dormitory in Surabaya on August 16, 2019.
On August 12, 2021, the Jayapura District Court registered the alleged treason case under the case number 376/Pid.Sus/2021/PN Jap. The trial was presided over by chief judge Mathius and member judges Andi Asmuruf and Linn Carol Hamadi.
Witnesses ‘proved innocence’
When reading his defence statement, Yeimo said that all witnesses presented by the prosecutor had actually proven the fact that he did not plan or coordinate the demonstrations against Papuan racism that took place in Jayapura City.
Video of Viktor Yeimo’s defence presentation. Video: Jubi TV
“At the August 19, 2019 action, I participated as a participant in the action against racism, and took part in securing the peaceful action at the request of students until it was over,” Yeimo said.
During the hearing, Yeimo argued that the witnesses produced by the prosecutor had actually corroborated his innocence. Their testimony had shown that he did not organise the protests in question.
Yeimo maintained that he had simply participated in the protests as a supporter of the cause and had helped ensure their peaceful conduct.
“During the protest on August 19, 2019, I merely acted as a participant and helped maintain a peaceful demonstration until it ended,” Yeimo said in his defence.
Yeimo highlighted the testimony of Feri Kombo, the former head of the Cenderawasih University Student executive board in 2019, who affirmed that Yeimo was not involved in the planning or coordination of the anti-racism protests.
Kombo was summoned as a witness on February 7, 2023, and testified that Yeimo had only given a speech at the event when requested by the protesters, and that the speech was intended to maintain order among them.
“I delivered speeches expressing my disappointment with the acts of racism in Surabaya. This aspiration is protected by the country’s laws as a constitutional right,” Yeimo said.
“As stated by the state administration expert witness and the philosophy expert witness, this right has a scientific basis.”
In addition, Yeimo stressed that he had never been involved in participating, let alone planning, in the protest that occurred on August 29, 2019, which was confirmed by all the witnesses presented in the trial.
Yeimo admitted that he had taken photos and videos in front of the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP) office and the Governor’s Office, but did not join the protest.
Yeimo clarified that he captured photos and videos to share with journalists and the public outside of Papua since the internet network was cut off by the central government at the time.
He added that President Joko Widodo had been found guilty of unlawful acts by a judge in the State Administrative Court in relation to the internet blackout.
Response to racism
Yeimo said that the anti-racism demonstration was a spontaneous action taken by both Papuan and non-Papuan people in response to the racial insults that had been directed at Papuan students in Surabaya.
“The 2019 anti-racism protest that spread throughout Papua was a spontaneous response by Papuans and non-Papuan sympathizers from various backgrounds including private sector workers, students, farmers, military and police, and others.
“Everyone was reacting to the racist remarks in Surabaya. The demonstration in Jayapura was organised by students and the Cipayung group, and there was no planning, conspiracy, or treason as alleged.
“My speech was to represent the Papuan people who felt outraged by the racist insults. I deny all accusations that link me to my organizational background and other activities that have no direct connection to the facts of the anti-racism protest,” Yeimo said.
Yeimo stated that during the protest on August 19, 2019, he spoke about the issue of racism and discrimination in Indonesia. He emphasised that these problems were not merely personal issues but rather systematic problems that were perpetuated for the benefit of the ruling economic powers.
“It is evident that racist views have led to Papuans being treated differently in all aspects of their lives. The negative stigma attached to Papuans is what led the mass organisation and state apparatus to attack the Papuan Student Dormitory in Surabaya.”
In his statement, Yeimo’s arguments revolved around the issue of racial discrimination that Papuans have faced and how it is seen as a normal occurrence that the State tolerates.
Papuans standing up to injustices
He highlighted that when Papuans stood up against these injustices, they were met with accusations of provocation and charged with treason.
“This trial case proves it. Racism really exists in all these accusations and charges. Could the State explain why the Papuan race is a minority, with only 2.9 million people remaining, while in Papua New Guinea there are already 17 million Papuans?” Yeimo asked.
In his pledoi, Yeimo not only defended himself against the treason allegations but also criticised Indonesia’s lack of development in Papua.
He raised questions about why the poverty rate in Papua remained the highest among all provinces in Indonesia and why the Human Development Index in the region had consistently been the lowest.
Yeimo pointed out the contrasting approaches taken by the Indonesian government in resolving the conflict in Aceh and in Papua.
Differences with Aceh
While the Aceh conflict was resolved through peace talks, Papua’s aspirations for independence have been met with violence and imprisonment.
Yeimo questioned why the government treats the two regions so differently.
Yeimo said that although Indonesia had enacted several laws to address issues of discrimination, freedom of expression, and special autonomy for Papua, these laws do not seem to be enforced in Papua, and their implementation did not benefit the indigenous Papuans.
“Isn’t that a structured crime against us Papuans? Can the government answer these questions? Or do the answers have to come from the muzzle of a gun?” asked Yeimo.
“Why is the government avoiding solutions recommended by state institutions such as the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, the National Research and Innovation Agency, and others who present the studies on Papua problems?”
Linguist witness competence in Yeimo’s trial questioned
During the hearing, Viktor Yeimo’s legal team, represented by the Papua Law Enforcement and Human Rights Coalition, presented a defence read by advocate Emanuel Gobay.
Gobay argued that the prosecutor’s conclusion that Yeimo had committed treason relied solely on the testimony of a linguist witness who lacked the necessary expertise to prove the elements of the crime of treason as outlined in Article 106 jo Article 55 paragraph (1) to 1 of the Criminal Code, which Yeimo had been charged with.
“As a matter of fact, during the trial, the prosecutor never presented a criminal expert witness. Instead, the prosecutor relied on a linguist and then concluded that Viktor Yeimo was guilty of treason,” said Gobay.
According to Gobay, Yeimo’s legal team had presented multiple expert witnesses who explained the components of the treason offence, which included the elements of intent, territorial separation, and participation.
“All elements mentioned in Article 106 are not proven based on the testimony of both the prosecutor’s witnesses and the expert witnesses we presented,” Gobay said.
Gobay expressed the hope that the judges would review all the facts presented in Yeimo’s trial.
He asked the judges to re-examine the data provided by legal philosophy expert Tristam Pascal Moeliono, human rights expert Herlambang P Wiratraman, conflict resolution expert in Papua Cahyo Pamungkas, and criminal law expert Amira Paripurna.
Ultimately, Gobay made a plea to the judges to exonerate Viktor Yeimo, stating there was no proof of the alleged offences.
He requested restoration of Yeimo’s reputation and the State to bear the trial costs.
Republished from Jubi with permission.