Crackdown on activists, free expression in Papua as Indonesia eyes UN Human Rights role

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A protest by Papuan activists is blocked around the anniversary of the 1962 New York Agreement in August 2023
A protest by Papuan activists is blocked around the anniversary of the 1962 New York Agreement in August 2023. Image: Jubi/CIVICUS Monitor

Asia Pacific Report

The state of civic space in Indonesia has been rated as “obstructed” in the latest CIVICUS Monitor report.

The civic space watchdog said that ongoing concerns include the arrest, harassment and criminalisation of human rights defenders and journalists as well as physical and digital attacks, the use of defamation laws to silence online dissent and excessive use of force by the police during protests, especially in the Papuan region.

In July 2023, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, expressed concerns regarding the human rights situation in the West Papua region in her opening remarks during the 22nd Meeting of the 53rd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

She highlighted the harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention of Papuans, which had led to the appropriation of customary land in West Papua.

She encouraged the Indonesian government to ensure humanitarian assistance and engage in “a genuine inclusive dialogue”.

In August 2023, human rights organisations called on Indonesia to make serious commitments as the country sought membership in the UN Human Rights Council for the period 2024 to 2026.

Among the calls were to ratify international human rights instruments, especially the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), to provide details of steps it will take to implement all of the supported recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and to fully cooperate with the Special Procedures of the Council.

Call to respect free expression
The groups also called on the government to ensure the respect, protection and promotion of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, for clear commitments to ensure a safe and enabling environment for all human rights defenders, to find a sustainable solution for the human rights crisis in Papua and to end impunity.

In recent months, protests by communities have been met with arbitrary arrests and excessive force from the police.

The arbitrary arrests, harassment and criminalisation of Papuan activists continue, while an LGBT conference was cancelled due to harassment and threats.

Human rights defenders continue to face defamation charges, there have been harassment and threats against journalists, while a TikTok communicator was jailed for two years over a pork video.

Ongoing targeting of Papuan activists
Arbitrary arrests, harassment and criminalisation of Papuan activists continue to be documented.

According to the Human Rights Monitor, on 5 July 2023, four armed plainclothes police officers arrested Viktor Makamuke, a 52-year-old activist of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), a pro-independence movement.

He was subsequently detained at the Sorong Selatan District Police Station where officers allegedly coerced and threatened Makamuke to pledge allegiance to the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI).

A week earlier, Makamuke and his friend had reportedly posted a photo in support of ULMWP full membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) — an intergovernmental organisation composed of the four Melanesian states.

Shortly after the arrest, the police published a statement claiming that Makamuke was the commander of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) — an armed group — in the Bomberai Region.

The Human Rights Monitor reported that members of the Yahukimo District police arbitrarily arrested six activists belonging to the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) in the town of Dekai, Yahukimo Regency, on 6 July 2023.

KNPB is a movement promoting the right to self-determination through peaceful action and is one of the most frequently targeted groups in West Papua.

The activists organised and carried out a collective cleaning activity in Dekai. The police repeatedly approached them claiming that the activists needed official permission for their activity.

Six KNPB activists arrested
Subsequently, police officers arrested the six KNPB activists without a warrant or justifying the arrest. All activists were released after being interrogated for an hour.

On 8 August 2023, three students were found guilty of treason and subsequently given a 10-month prison sentence by the Jayapura District Court.

Yoseph Ernesto Matuan, Devio Tekege and Ambrosius Fransiskus Elopere were charged with treason due to their involvement in an event held at the Jayapura University of Science and Technology (USTJ) in November 2022, where they waved the Morning Star flag, a banned symbol of Papuan independence.

Their action was in protest against a planned peace dialogue proposed by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

According to Amnesty International Indonesia, between 2019 and 2022 there have been at least 61 cases involving 111 individuals in Papua who were charged with treason.

At least 37 supporters of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) were arrested in relation to peaceful demonstrations to commemorate the 1962 New York Agreement in the towns Sentani, Jayapura Regency and Dekai, Yahukimo Regency, on 14 and 15 August 2023.

Allegations of police ill-treatment
There were also allegations of ill-treatment by the police.

On 2 September 2023, police officers detained Agus Kossay, Chairman of the West Papua National Coalition (KNPB); Benny Murip, KNPB Secretary in Jayapura; Ruben Wakla, member of the KNPB in the Yahukimo Regency; and Ferry Yelipele.

The four activists were subsequently detained and interrogated at the Jayapura District Police Station in Doyo Baru. Wakla and Yelipele were released on 3rd September 2023 without charge.

Police officers reportedly charged Kossay and Murip under Article 160 and Article 170 of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) for “incitement”.

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