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Indonesian plainclothes police arrest Johan Teterisa (third from left) outside the Merdeka Stadium in Ambon on June 29, 2007. Teterisa led Alifuru nationalists in unfurling the banned RMS flag while performing the traditional cakalele dance before President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other dignitaries. © 2007 Agung Setyahadi/Kompas

Update: On August 16, the two other political prisoners, Jonathan Riri and Pieter Johannes, were also transferred to Ambon prison. 

Indonesian authorities have moved six Moluccan political prisoners from a remote high-security prison island to an ordinary prison close to home, in Ambon, the provincial capital of the Moluccan Islands.

Semuel Waileruny, the prisoners’ lawyer, said the six are those serving very long prison terms: Ruben Saija (20 years), Yohanis Saija (20 years), Jordan Saija (17 years), John Markus (17 years), Romanus Batseran (17 years), and Johan Teterisa (15 years). Two other prisoners, Jonathan Riri and Pieter Johannes, remained jailed in Porong and Pamekasan prisons in East Java province.

The six are among more than 60 activists arrested and imprisoned since June 2007 after 28 of them staged a protest dance in front of then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Ambon stadium.

In 2009, they were transferred to Nusa Kambangan in Central Java, 3,000 kilometers from Ambon, which severely handicapped the Moluccan prisoners’ ability to stay in touch with friends and relatives. The prisoners have endured more than a decade of torture and ill-treatment. In January 2016, some activists visited them in Nusa Kambangan. Former political prisoner Filep Karma from Papua raised money to have their families visit them for the first time in May 2016.

Human Rights Watch, along with other human rights groups including Amnesty International and Kontras, have long pressed the Indonesian government to release the prisoners, who are being imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political beliefs.

The men are part of a long-simmering independence movement that has existed in the southern Moluccas Islands since 1950, when a group of Moluccan nationalists proclaimed the creation of the Republic of Southern Moluccas in defiance of the Indonesian government’s claim to the region. Ever since, Moluccan activists who advocate pro-independence views have risked arrest, prolonged detention, and torture by Indonesian security forces.

In April 2016, a Human Rights Watch delegation met with Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly in Jakarta, during which he promised to transfer these prisoners back to Ambon. Laoly has no authority to release them. He had offered they ask for a presidential pardon from President Joko Widodo, but they refused, saying they were not guilty of any crime.

Laoly has kept his promise, moving these prisoners closer to their families in Ambon.

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