Papuan Leaders Jailed For Speaking Out


Last Friday presiding Judge Jack Johanis Oktavianus sentenced the men known as the Jayapura Five to three years in prison. The Five — Forkorus Yaboisembut (the president-elect of an independent West Papua), Edison Waromi (prime minister-elect), Dominikus Surabut, Agus Krar and Selphius Bobii — were charged with treason for their role in organising the peaceful Third Papuan People’s Congress which took place in October 2011.

The Five’s legal team immediately declared they would appeal to Indonesia’s High Court in Jakarta. Outside the packed District Court in Jayapura hundreds of Papuan protesters sang, danced and prayed. Many carried banners calling for a referendum. Ringed around the Papuan crowd were Indonesian riot police, military personnel and a fleet of armed troop carriers, army assault vehicles and water cannons.

The Third Papuan People’s Congress, a three-day open air gathering that was attended by thousands of Papuans last year, ended with Forkorus Yaboisembut reading a declaration of independence from Indonesia. After he had finished the 74-year old tribal leader thanked the police and military for allowing the Congress to take place and retired to a nearby monastery.

Forty minutes later — and for no apparent reason — the police and military opened fire with live ammunition. Five Papuans were killed by the Indonesian security forces. Witnesses told New Matilda that some of the police who opened fire on the unarmed crowd were members of the Australian and US-funded, armed and trained Detachment 88.

But rather than the Indonesian police being arrested and charged with murder, Forkorus and his colleagues were the ones dragged before the court. The police and military officers that opened fire last October were given a slap on the wrist. Seventeen police officers received little more than a written warning.

The Jayapura Five were charged under antiquated sections of Indonesia’s Criminal Code that date back to the Suharto era and before that to Dutch colonial times. But given the fact that treason can fetch life imprisonment in Indonesia, the three-year sentences handed down last Friday were much less than many people expected.

When New Matilda asked Gustaf Kawer, the senior legal counsel for the men, whether the three-year sentence could be read as a signal that the Indonesian legal system was asserting more judicial independence his response was an emphatic "no".

"The Five invited the Coordinating Minister for Political and Legal Security and the Minister for Home Affairs to attend the Congress. The gathering was held in the open and everyone was welcome to attend. It would be much better if the court and police did not attempt to obstruct their democratic right of freedom of expression," Kawer said.

Kawer and other members of the legal team told New Matilda that the trial was marked by irregularities, interference and intimidation. There was a heavy presence of armed members of the security forces at all 15 court hearings — inside and outside. Question marks also hang over the extent to which the court acted independently. Immediately prior to sentencing the judges met with senior military commanders, police and government officials for a one-hour closed meeting, according to Tapol. Kawer has also been threatened with prosecution by the police for defending the Five.

In an interview with the Jakarta Globe, Indonesian presidential spokesperson, Teuku Faizasyah, asserted that the court did act independently. "Our political system today fully respects trias politica and the ongoing legal process."

Faizasyah went on to say that the right to freedom of speech in Indonesia does not extend to separatist activities. According to Faizasyah, declaring independence from Indonesia is separatism and the European Union classifies separatism as a form of terrorism. "Any expression of separatism in the EU is thus considered an act of terrorism" said Faizasyah.

In the case of the Jayapura Five the men operated openly. They were unarmed and behaved in a disciplined and non-violent manner. They may be revolutionaries — but they are not violent.

In an SMS from prison a defiant Selphius Bobii told New Matilda that sentencing the Five to prison sends a message to Papuan activists that Indonesian law is incapable of delivering justice for the Papuan people.

"The police, Attorney General, and Indonesian judges … cannot deliver justice for the people of West Papua. They cannot imprison democracy and they cannot imprison the peaceful struggle for a free West Papua. It is the Papuans who possess sovereignty over our land … and the Papuan people will continue to struggle," wrote Bobii.

Dominikus Surabut, another member of the Five, told New Matilda that it was illogical to accuse West Papuans of wanting to separate from Indonesia when it was Indonesia that invaded and annexed West Papua. Surabut argues that the invasion and continued occupation of West Papua by the Indonesian state is in violation of the right to "free choice" that the United Nations guaranteed West Papuans but failed to deliver.

For people like Surabut and Bobii and their three jailed colleagues, and for the Papuans who watched the treason trial unfold, state repression in West Papua is evidence that Indonesia can never lay claim to being a democracy while West Papuans are denied the chance to freely and fairly determine their future.

The jailing of the Jayapura Five pushes West Papuans further down the path of insurrection. The denial of free speech invites the international community to join Papuans on that journey.

"Holland didn’t fall over when Indonesia became independent, and neither will Indonesia when we do," says Herman Wainggai, a West Papuan independence leader and former political prisoner living in the United States. "Bali principles, Lombok treaties, peace centres in West Java … these are all meaningless while Indonesia continues to escalate its troops and its judiciaries against us".

With West Papua Media.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.