Numerous political arrests have taken place in 2018 and 2019 as the Indonesian authorities attempted to suppress political protests in West Papua and Indonesia. In particular, treason charges have been used to an unprecedented extent to arrest political activists during August and September this year, in response to an apparent increase in support across Indonesia for the West Papuan self-determination struggle. Foreign as well as local human rights advocates are being subjected to similar scrutiny.
In total, from January 2018 until October 2019 there have been 99 West Papuan political prisoners/detainees. In 2018, PBB documented 26 political prisoners detained in West Papua: 25 West Papuans and one Polish national. The majority of the West Papuan detainees were charged with possession of firearms, although two among them were charged with treason. Some of these prisoners have now been released or are due for release later this year or early in 2020.
There has been a surge in the number of West Papuan political prisoners/detainees in 2019. PBB has identified around 77 new political detainees in cases related to West Papua this year. Most detainees were arrested for their involvement in the mass civilian demonstrations during August and September. Most of them were arrested on charges related to their participation in rallies, which turned violent in some places. Some were detained for treason and others are being criminalised for taking part in broadcasting the protests in the media.
2019 shows a significant increase in treason charges: 22 compared to 5 in 2018. Out of the total of 27 treason charges during 2018 and 2019, 25 were arrested for taking part in peaceful assembly and political protests. Three treason suspects were arrested in 2018 while carrying out a traditional cooking feast and praying ceremony at the Timika office of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB). Meanwhile, the 22 treason suspects in 2019 were arrested for taking part in political protests during the August-September period. This shows that the Indonesian authorities are using treason charges to silence free political expression, a right that is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia.