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Indonesia: Surging Sectarian Violence, Papua Crackdown

Hold Abusers to Account, Free Political Prisoners

(New York) – Indonesian authorities throughout 2011 used excessive force against peaceful protesters in easternmost Papua and stood aside while mobs attacked religious minorities in Java and Sumatra, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2012.

The Indonesian government should release all detainees held for peacefully expressing views opposing the government, mainly Papuan and Moluccan activists, Human Rights Watch said. The government should also thoroughly investigate and prosecute violence against religious and ethnic minorities.

“Police violence in Papua and attacks on religious minorities got a lot worse in 2011,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The common thread is the failure of the Indonesian government to protect the rights of all its citizens.”

In its 676-page report, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including popular uprisings in the Arab world that few would have imagined. Given the violent forces resisting the “Arab Spring,” the international community has an important role to play in assisting the birth of rights-respecting democracies in the region, Human Rights Watch said in the report.

In October, police used excessive force when arresting more than 300 Papuans involved in a three-day Papuan Congress in Jayapura, the provincial capital. At least three men died and more than ninety were injured. No police officers were disciplined but five Papuan leaders were charged with treason. At least 15 other Papuans, including Filep Karma, imprisoned since December 2004, have been convicted of treason for peaceful political activities. About 60 more people throughout Indonesia, mostly activists from the Moluccas Islands, are also imprisoned on charges related to peaceful acts of free expression.

Several of the prisoners have long suffered from illnesses, exacerbated by poor medical care in prison. For instance, Leonard Joni Sinay, an Ambonese political prisoner in Malang prison, has suffered serious headaches and other ill-effects since he was arrested in 2007, for which he has received inadequate treatment. Sinay alleges that he was tortured by Detachment 88 police officers during questioning. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for treason after he took part in a protest dance when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited Ambon in June 2007. In another case, prison authorities in Nabire refuse to fly Kimanus Wenda, a Papuan prisoner with a stomach tumor, to Jayapura for surgery.

Five Papuan political prisoners – Simon Tuturop, Tadius Weripang, Benediktus Tuturop, Tomas Nimbikendik, and Teles Piahar – were released from Fakfak prison on December 23, after completing four-year terms for treason. All took part in raising the Papuan separatist Morning Star flag, a banned symbol in Indonesia, in July 2008, in Fakfak.

“The Indonesian government’s jailing of people for peacefully expressing their political views is an ugly stain on the country’s human rights record,” Pearson said. “Indonesia’s reputation as a rights-respecting democracy will be tarnished until all of these prisoners are released.”

In 2011, the Indonesian government established a unit to accelerate economic development in Papua and appointed a special envoy to open talks with the pro-independence Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM). President Yudhoyono also invited four Papuan church leaders to discuss human rights issues in Papua. However, there has been little progress in addressing government or OPM abuses in the provinces. Access to Papua in 2011 remained tightly controlled. Few foreign journalists and human rights researchers can visit independently without close monitoring of their activities.

Incidents of violence against religious minorities became more deadly and frequent during 2011, as Islamist militants mobilized mobs to attack religious minorities. Short prison terms for a handful of offenders had no impact on the widespread impunity for those responsible for the worst offenses. The government did not revoke several decrees that discriminate against minority religions, fostering public intolerance.

Islamist mobs attacked members of the Ahmadiyah religious community and their mosques in 14 locations, including West Java, Banten, and South Sulawesi. Even in the deadliest attack against the Ahmadiyah, in February 2011, when three Ahmadiyah men were killed, attackers were only sentenced to short prison terms of between three and six months for disturbing public order, incitement, and assault. They were not convicted of manslaughter. Police did not conduct thorough investigations, and prosecutors did not call key witnesses, including a man who videotaped the attack.

Islamists also attacked three Christian churches in Temanggung, Central Java, in February after a district court convicted a controversial preacher of blasphemy. Minority congregations reported that local government officials arbitrarily refused to issue them permits required under a 2006 decree on building houses of worship. Those who attempted to worship without a permit faced harassment and violence.

In January 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that a Presbyterian church known locally as GKI Yasmin should be reopened, overturning a Bogor administration ruling by the city government to revoke the church’s building permit. Mayor Diani Budiarto refused to comply, and government ministers have offered the church “relocation.” Since October, Islamist organizations have harassed churchgoers who regularly hold Sunday services on a sidewalk outside the sealed church, and prevented the congregation from holding its Christmas service there. Thugs shouted abuses and threats, chasing churchgoers and threatening to destroy a church car. Police stood by, taking no action. The Indonesian government should respect the Supreme Court ruling and allow the church to conduct services with full police protection, Human Rights Watch said.

“Incidents of sectarian violence are no longer isolated cases in Indonesia, but are taking place at an alarming rate,” Pearson said. “The Indonesian government needs to reverse course and start prosecuting violence against religious minorities and replace the discriminatory regulations that only encourage such attacks.”


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