May 2015: While Jokowi releases five, nearly 500 are arrested

PapuansBehindBarsLogo200pxAt the end of May 2015, there were at least 47 political prisoners in Papua.

The recorded number of arbitrary arrests in Papua has reached a record high, with at least 487 people arrested during May. In our last update, we reported on the mass arrests of 264 people who participated in activities on 1 May commemorating the 52nd anniversary of the administrative transfer of Papua to Indonesia. On 20 to 28 May, security forces further clamped down on peaceful political protest by arresting 223 Papuans who participated in demonstrations supporting a bid by the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) to become an associate member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). Pre-emptive arrests deliberately targeted people who planned to take part in peaceful demonstrations, particularly those from the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB).

Just over a week following the mass arrests on 1 May, Indonesian President Joko Widodo granted clemencies to five Papuan political prisoners and announced that foreign journalists were no longer banned from entering Papua. These initiatives, which were quickly hailed by some Indonesian and international press as a 'breakthrough' and 'historic', are completely at odds with the repressive approach taken by security forces in Papua at the same time. The glaring discrepancy between the Jokowi's rhetorical promises and the repressive actions against Papuans highlights his lack of control over security forces in Papua. Furthermore, contradictory statements issued by several Indonesian ministers and security leaders against Jokowi's plans for opening Papua to foreign journalists suggest 'business as usual'. The establishment of the 'Foreign Monitoring Team' which appears to assume the role of its predecessor, the Clearing House Committee, of vetting visa applications of foreign journalists suggests that the Indonesian government has little intention of allowing free and open access to Papua for foreign journalists, humanitarian organisations and human rights observers.

Out of the 487 people arrested in May, at least 11 men remain detention in Manokwari, Biak, Nabire and Kaimana. At least seven of them are facing vague and broad charges of incitement under Article 160 of the Indonesian Criminal Code. These latest charges and mass arrests raise new fears of a further clamp down on democratic rights as Papuans continue to voice their support for MSG membership. There are increased concerns that Indonesia will continue to put a muzzle on free speech during this period of political uncertainty surrounding membership with the MSG.

On 8 May, Areki Wanimbo was acquitted of charges of conspiracy to commit treason and released from Wamena prison. The last treason case to be acquitted was that of Papuan leader, Theys Eluay, some 14 years ago; he was later assassinated. While Wanimbo's acquittal is a welcome step, serious questions still remain regarding the techniques used by the police in building up cases against indigenous Papuans. In Wanimbo's case, as in many others, insufficient evidence is often used as the basis of prolonged detention and prosecution.

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