Law enforcement institutions in West Papua continue to use treason for criminalization of political activists

Treason continues to be among the top criminal charges used by Indonesian authorities to criminalize peaceful political activity that contradicts the government ideology of a unitary state (NKRI). Seven political activists are currently tried in three trials – all of them have been charged with the penal code articles 106 and/ or 110 regulating the act of treason. For the first time treason charges have been used to prosecute a foreigner in West Papua. Two ‘treason trials’ are currently held at the Jayawijaya District Court in Wamena, a further one at the Mimika District Court in Timika.

The trial against Polish citizen Jakub Skrzypski and Papuan student Simon Magal has been ongoing since 14 January 2019. Both defendants have been charged with the articles 106 and 87 of the Indonesian Criminal Code KUHP on treason and article 55 KUHP on committing, ordering or participating in a criminal offense. Two court sessions in early April with the agenda item ‘public prosecution's demands’ were cancelled because the public prosecution failed to present the charges and demanded sentences. During the court session on 11 April 2019 (see intro image), the public prosecutor, Febiana Wilma Sorbu, demanded a sentence of 10 years imprisonment for Jakub Skrzypski and Simon Magal. The court session took place although the defendants’ lawyers could not attend the trial due to a last-minute flight cancellation. Lawyer Latifah Anum Siregar criticized the judge for proceeding with the court session, arguing that article 56 (1) of the Indonesian Criminal Procedure Code KUHAP requires the presence of a lawyer if a suspect or defendant faces charges which carry sentences of five years or longer.

A second 'treason trial' is currently also taking place at the district court in Wamena. The Papuan defendants Solak Alitnoe and Isak Wandik have been charged with almost the same KUHP articles, namely articles 106 and 55. Lawyer Danius Wenda argued that Solak Alitnoe and Isak Wandik had organised a public prayer session. Both defendants had aforehand submitted a letter to the Jayawijaya District Police in which they informed the authorities about the assembly. The defendants were arrested in August 2018 in the Abenaho District of Yalimo Regency. Authorities claim that Solak and Isak had allegedly organized a ceremony for the inauguration for members of the West Papua Revolution Army (TRWP). The public prosecution - again represented by Febiana Wilma Sorbu - presented a morning star flag as evidence, which police officers had seized from one of the defendant’s bags. Mrs. Sorbu demanded a sentence of eight years imprisonment for the defendants.

Three members of the West Papua National Committee are currently undergoing trial at the district court in Timika. They were charged with the KUHP articles 106, 110 and 87 on treason as well as article article 88 regarding the agreement of at least two persons to conduct a criminal offense and article 169 regarding associations engaging in criminal activities. At the current stage of the trial, the public prosecution has not yet demanded a sentence for the three KNPB members. The panel of judges asked the public prosecution to invite an expert witness before proceeding with the trial.

Background

Analysis of the pattern of criminal charges against political detainees since January 2015 suggests that the Indonesian authorities have begun to modestly reform the use of treason charges in the realm of curbing rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. This observation is also reflected in a decision by the Indonesian Constitutional Court on 31 January 2018, which states that the possession of a flag or other political emblems are insufficient evidence for a treasonous act and can’t become the legal grounds for a criminal prosecution. However, West Papuan civil society actors continue to be arrested and detained for peaceful actions, such as raising the West Papuan “Morning Star” flag or attending demonstrations and public events that are associated with West Papuan nationalism. The three current trials elucidate that Indonesian authorities still use treason charges to prosecute the organizers of such events - the sentences for treasonous acts can reach up to twenty years or even lifelong imprisonment.