In dramatic scenes in Serui on the remote West Papuan island of Yapen last wednesday, local community leaders demanded the Indonesian police release two independence activists jailed on charges of rebellion.
Earlier in the day the two activists, Edison Kendi, 37, and Yan Piet Maniamboy, 35, were sentenced to two years and 18 months respectively in a Yapen Island courthouse on trumped up charges of rebellion, an antiquated law used extensively by the Suharto regime to repress dissent in Indonesia. Suharto was overthrown in May 1998, but the legislation remains on the statute books, and is regularly employed by Indonesian police to repress dissent.
Local sources say Kendi was abused and dragged naked into the courtroom by police and three members of Kopassus, Indonesia’s notorious Special Forces. Kendi told NM that the Kopassus commander went by the name of “Mr Baskoro”. “He did not treat me well or respect my human rights” Kendi said via an intermediary.
Over a thousand people from neighbouring areas were present at the trial. Some arrived in boats decked out with large Morning Star flags, the banned symbol of West Papuan independence. Scores more waved flags in the crowd or wore clothes depicting the Morning Star. The police appeared unable or unwilling to do anything.
Both Kendi and Maniamboy said they were denied legal representation despite requesting it. As the two men were taken back to prison, a large crowd gathered outside the jail and demanded the men’s release.
After intense negotiations between the men’s lawyers, police in charge of the prison, and protest organiser George Ayorbaba, Kendi and Maniamboy were released to a jubilant crowd pending their appeal. Ayorbaba later told NM that “Papuans need freedom, just like other people struggling for their right to self-determination”.
As I reported in NM last year, Edison Kendi and Yan Piet Maniamboy were originally detained by Indonesian police on 9 August 2012. The two activists were arrested for organising a nonviolent march in support of the United Nations International Day of Indigenous People. Kendi and Maniamboy were part of a large protest group from the West Papua National Authority, a grassroots pro-independence group.
According to Papuans Behind Bars, who profiled Kendi and Maniamboy on their website, by the end of June 2013, 57 Papuan political prisoners were in jail for nonviolently expressing their political opinions.
Australian Aboriginal Elder, Kevin Buzzacott from the Arabunna nation in South Australia, together with Jacob Rumbiak, Foreign Affairs Minister for the Federal Republic of West Papua and a large group of West Papuans and Australian supporters are currently travelling by land and sea to West Papua where they plan to meet pro-independence activists.
Local activists are planning a welcoming ceremony. Both Buzzacott and Rumbiak say the Freedom Flotilla is part of a plan to revitalise ancient cultural ties between Australia and West Papua. “We have a responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters from across the water,” said Buzzacott.
The Indonesian government has not yet made a public statement about whether the Freedom Flotilla will be allowed to enter West Papua.