320 political arrests throughout May 2017

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While the months January to April 2017 were comparably quiet in terms of political arrests, activists and human rights defenders have reported 320 political arrests throughout May 2017. Most arrests occured during peaceful assemblies like demonstrations or prayer sessions in various cities of West Papua. A smaller number of political arrests was related to the distribution of leaflets. Some arrests were allegedly accompanied by acts of violence against protesters, as it was reported from the 1st May commemoration in Sentani and a prayer session in Timika, which was organized by the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) on the 30 May 2017. Police officers of the Jayapura district police also tortured local journalist Yance Wenda after covering the 1st May demonstration in Sentani.

In Timika, the leader of the local KNPB branch was charged with article 106 of the Indonesian Penal Code (KUHP). The article refers to the act of treason, which is punishable by life imprisonment or a maximum imprisonment of twenty years. In all other cases of political arrests throughout May, the protesters were released without charges. The following table provides information on political arrests throughout May 2017:

Date Dispersed Demonstrations/ Assemblies/ Activities Location(s) Arrests Reported Violations
01.05.2017 Commemoration of 1st May organized by KNPB Sentani, Jayapura Regency 200 unlawful arrests, torture/ill-treatment
03.05.2017 Demonstration for the opening of West Papua for foreign journalists Timika, Mimika Regency 30 unlawful arrest, and prohibition of peaceful demonstration
05.05.2017 Distribution of leaflets for the upcoming election of new local KNPB board Manokwari City, Manokwari Regency 6 unlawful arrests
30.05.2017 Prayer session celebrating the election of the new board of the KNPB Timika branch Timika, Mimika Regency 7 unlawful arrests, torture/ill-treatment
31.05.2017 Prayer session celebrating the election of the new board of the KNPB Merauke branch Merauke City, Merauke Regency 77 unlawful arrests


The number of political arrests duing the past two years has drastically increased to 1083 in 2015, peaking at a record high of 5361 arrests between 1st January and 31st December 2016. Security forces commonly commit acts of violence and torture against the protesters during arrest and detention at local police stations. In 2016,  the Papuan Regional Police (POLDA Papua) issued an edict (Maklumat) as an attempt to limit democratic space for indigenous Papuans and criminalize members and supporters of the pro-independence civil society organizations. Indonesian law, guarantees freedom of assembly for demonstrations. It requires demonstrators to inform the police beforehand but does not require a permit from the police. However, in West Papua, the police usually uses the lack of a “police acknowledgement letter” (“Surat Tanda Terima Pemberitahuan” STTP) in response to a “notification letter for a demonstration” as reason to declare demonstrations illegal. The criminalization of peaceful civil society activists with treason charges is very common in West Papua. Articles 106 and 110 of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP), regulating the crime of treason, are frequently used against activists in cases of prosecution of civil society activists who organize peaceful demonstrations.