(Jakarta) - The Indonesian government should immediately release the more than 100 Papuan and Moluccan activists imprisoned for peacefully voicing political views, and change laws and policies to protect freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said in a report  released today. The government should act now to ensure that a European Union-Indonesia dialogue on human rights scheduled for June 29, 2010, in Jakarta will get off to a successful start, Human Rights Watch said.
The 43-page report, "Prosecuting Political Aspiration: Indonesia's Political Prisoners ," is based on more than 50 jailhouse interviews with political prisoners conducted between December 2008 and May 2010. It describes the arrest and prosecution of activists for peacefully raising banned symbols, such as the Papuan Morning Star and the South Moluccan RMS flags. The report also details torture that many say they have suffered in detention, especially by members of the Detachment 88/Anti-Terror Squad in Ambon, as well as police and prison guards in Papua, and the failure of the government to hold those responsible to account.
"Imprisoning activists for peacefully voicing their political views is an ugly stain on Indonesia's recent improvements in human rights," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "It's out of step with Indonesians' growing aspirations as a democratic and rights-respecting country."
Cases of the 10 most prominent of the prisoners interviewed also uncovered other problems that the authorities need to address, Human Rights Watch said. These include denial of adequate medical services, the use of long-distance prison transfers from Ambon to Java to isolate prisoners far from their family and community, and poor prison conditions.
Human Rights Watch urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to drop all charges and order the release of all political prisoners, revoke provisions of the 2007 regulation banning peaceful display of symbols, and take additional steps to enhance the rule of law. Other concerned governments have important roles to play to monitor the situation of Indonesia's political prisoners, especially those who have suffered torture and ill-treatment, Human Rights Watch said. The EU should publicly raise their concerns about these cases and the underlying laws during the human rights dialogue, the first between the EU and Indonesia.
In one case described in the report, Johan Teterisa was sentenced to 15 years in prison for treason for his role in unfurling an RMS flag in a public dance in the Southern Moluccas on June 29, 2007. Asmara Nababan, a former secretary-general of the National Commission on Human Rights in Jakarta, said the Ambon judges had failed to consider that Teterisa's actions were non-violent.
"The judges should have deemed his action more as a political aspiration than a life-threatening act," Nababan was quoted as saying in news reports. "He only waved an RMS flag, and did not carry a weapon."
In another case, Reimond Tuapattinaya, a Moluccan activist arrested in June 2007, described his beatings by members of the Detachment 88/Anti-Terror Squad: "If they held an iron bar, we got the iron bar. If they held a wooden bat, we got the wooden bat. If they held a wire cable, we got cabled. Shoes. Bare hands. They used everything. The torture was conducted inside Tantui [prison] and the Moluccan police headquarters. I was tortured for 14 days in Tantui, day and night. They picked me up in the morning, and returned me, bleeding, to my cell in the evening."
Filep Karma, a Papuan political prisoner in the Abepura prison in West Papua, has suffered from a prostate problem since August 2009. Doctors recommended sending him for surgery to a properly equipped hospital in Jakarta. But the Ministry of Law and Human Rights did not sufficiently address this medical request until May 2010.
"I used to be a bureaucrat myself," Karma told Human Rights Watch. "But I have never experienced such [use of] a red tape on a sick man." To date, he has still not had the required surgery.
"Peacefully raising a flag is not something anyone should be arrested for, and torture is unconscionable," Robertson said. "The European Union should make clear that the world is appalled by these abuses and press Indonesia to free these prisoners and amend the penal code to prevent future human rights violations."
Human Rights Watch takes no position on claims to self-determination in Indonesia or in any other country, and nothing in this report should be construed as supporting or denigrating the independence aspirations of Papuan or Moluccan activists. Consistent with international law, however, Human Rights Watch supports the right of all individuals, including independence supporters, to express their political views peacefully without fear of arrest or other forms of reprisal.
The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua (referred to collectively here as "Papua") occupy the western half of the island of New Guinea. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, which gained independence in 1945, Papua was under Dutch control until the 1960s. On December 1, 1961, the Papuan Council, a representative body sponsored by the Dutch colonial administration, declared that Papuan people were ready to establish a sovereign state, and issued a new national flag called the Morning Star.
Indonesia's president at that time, Sukarno, accused the Dutch of trying to create a "puppet state" and ordered Indonesian troops to invade Papua. The US government intervened diplomatically, and after negotiations, Indonesia and the Netherlands agreed to have the United Nations organize a referendum in Papua. The UN-sponsored "Act of Free Choice" took place in 1969, but only 1,054 Papuans, hand-picked by the Indonesian government, were certified to vote. They voted unanimously to join Indonesia. Many Papuans consider the "Act of Free Choice" a fraudulent justification for Indonesia's annexation of Papua.
Over the last five decades, support for independence, fueled by resentment of Indonesian rule, loss of ancestral land to development projects, and the influx of migrants from elsewhere in the country, has taken the form of both an armed guerrilla movement, the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka or OPM), and a diverse series of nonviolent organizations and initiatives. A common tactic of peaceful pro-independence advocates has been to raise the Papuan Morning Star flag in public ceremonies, particularly on the December 1 anniversary.
A pro-independence movement has existed in the southern Moluccas, centered on the island of Ambon, since 1950. Many of the indigenous people of this region call themselves Alifurus. On April 25, 1950, Alifuru nationalists in the All Southern Moluccas Council, led by Chr. R.S. Soumokil, held a national conference on Ambon Island and proclaimed the creation of the independent Republic of the South Moluccas (Republik Maluku Selatan, RMS).
While the RMS does not today enjoy broad support in the Moluccas, nationalist sentiments have continued in pockets in the region. Issues of independence and sovereignty were inflamed by religion-based communal conflicts between the predominantly Christian Alifurus and Muslim migrants from Java and Sulawesi (migration that for many years was encouraged by the Indonesian government). Sectarian violence erupted in January 1999 in Ambon and later spread throughout the archipelago, continuing through 2005. Raising the RMS flag, especially on the April 25 anniversary of the founding of the RMS in 1950, has become a major method of expressing public disapproval of Indonesian rule.