(New York) - The Indonesian government should conduct impartial investigations into pre-election violence and free all peaceful critics arrested in the period leading up to parliamentary elections on April 9, 2009, Human Rights Watch said today.

Forty-four political parties will compete in the nationwide elections for seats in the House of Representatives, the House of Regional Representatives, and provincial and local parliaments. Of the parties, 38 are national. The remaining six are local parties in Aceh, in northern Sumatra, that were established after the Helsinki peace agreement between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement in August 2005.

"The government should carry out serious investigations into the pre-election violence, no matter where the evidence leads," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "No one should be complacent and say that Indonesia is a big and unstable country where election violence is inevitable. No human rights abuses are inevitable."

Since January, five politicians from the Aceh Party, the political party of the Free Aceh Movement, have been killed. In the most recent case, on April 4, two unidentified gunmen shot in the chest Muhamad Jamil, Aceh Party head in the town of Langsa. The party's offices have been bombed, and Indonesian soldiers have taken down some of their flags.

In Papua, students have held peaceful rallies against the elections in Nabire and Jayapura, instead calling for a UN-organized referendum on the future of Papua. On April 6 in Nabire, the Indonesian police shot at demonstrators, seriously wounding four students. On April 3, Indonesian police raided the compound of the Papua Customary Council in Jayapura, arresting 15 students there and two others in Jayapura seaport. The police also arrested three students in Wamena. The students had been camping at the Papua Customary Council compound since November 2008.

The police have charged three of the Jayapura students - Musa Tabuni, Serafin Diaz, and Yance Motte - with treason and incitement. The three face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

"The Indonesian government should free all peaceful critics and activists immediately," said Adams. "To jail people for criticizing the elections makes a mockery of democracy."

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Indonesia, please visit:

https://www.hrw.org/asia/indonesia