Eighth update on trials and detentions after anti-racism riots in West Papua

This article provides an overview of the trials related to Papua-wide anti-racism protests between late August and late September 2019 as well as the subsequent wave of criminalisation against human rights defenders and political activists. The International Coalition for Papua summarised earlier stages of the legal proceedings and detentions in previous articles (first update, second update, third update, fourth update, fifth update, sixth update, seventh update). The following article covers the developments throughout May 2020 and early June 2020s concerning the riots.

Regional authorities have released inmates early from penitentiaries across Indonesia following a regulation issued in April by the Law and Human Rights Ministry to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in overcrowded correctional facilities. The Ministry has provided a legal basis for the release through Human Rights Ministerial Regulation No. 10/2020 on the terms and conditions of assimilation and integration of prisoners and juvenile inmates to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and Human Rights Ministerial Decree No. 19/2020 on the release of prisoners and juvenile inmates through assimilation and integration to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic and the implementation of these regulations is affecting the conditions of the Papuan and pro-Papua detainees.

Update on the condition of seven Papuan political detainees in Kalimantan
The trial against the seven Papuan activists Fery Gombo, Alexander Gobay, Hengki Hilapok, Buchtar Tabuni, Irwanus Uropmabin, Stevanus Itlay and Agus Kossay still proceeds at the district court in Balikpapan. The trial is being held via teleconference since mid-April 2020 due to the increasing number of COVID-19 infections in Indonesia. The lawyers continue to raise concerns that the teleconference format may negatively affect the outcome of the trials due to the slow internet connection in West Papua and other technical issues.

Throughout May 2020, the court examined multiple expert witnesses - among them were experts on constitutional law, politics, psychology and a linguist - to get input from multiple scientific angles on the term of treason. The lawyers criticised the experts on constitutional law and linguistics for allegedly providing information beyond their field of expertise. The judges did not ask the opinion of an expert on criminal law as suggested by the lawyers.

Papuan provincial parliament member, Laurenzus Kadepa, twice testified at court. According to Kadepa, the demonstrations in Jayapura and other Papuan cities were triggered by the racist assault against Papuan students in Surabaya. The peaceful protest escalated into outbreaks of vandalism, resulting in the mass arrests of protesters. Kadepa emphasised that the demonstration was an initiative of the civil society in West Papua without the involvement of political organisations such as the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), West Papua National Committee (KNPB) or the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN PB). He further explained that the waving of Morningstar flags and demands for a referendum during the protest must be understood as the Papuan peoples’ response to decades of injustice and repeated acts of racial discrimination by state actors.

In early June, the public prosecutor demanded an imprisonment sentence of 17 years for Buchtar Tabuni and five years for Irwanus Uropmabin. The lawyers represent the view that the demanded penalty does not mirror the evidence and facts during the trial. The prosecutor claimed that Irwanus Uropmabin was involved in the raising of a Morningstar Flag during the riot in Jayapura on 29 August 2019. During his examination in court, Uropmabin did not mention any involvement in a flag-raising during the protests. Likewise, Buchtar Tabuni was accused of ‘accommodating the masses’ during the Jayapura protests on 19 and 29 August 2019, although Buchtar Tabuni testified that he did not attend any of those demonstrations and that he was working in his garden at the time of the demonstrations.

On 5 June 2020, the public prosecutor demanded the following imprisonment sentences: 15 years for Steven Itlay and Agus Kossay, 10 years for Alexander Gobay and Fery Kombo and 5 years for Hengki Hilapok.

Six pro-Papua activists in Jakarta released 
The political prisoners Paulus Suryanta Ginting, Dano Tabuni, Charles Kossay, Arina Lokbere and Ambrosius Mulait, were released on 26 May 2020 after serving their full sentence of nine months imprisonment. Isay Wenda, who was sentenced to eight months imprisonment, was already released on 29 April 2020. The six activists waived the possibility to file an objection against the verdict – not because they accepted the verdict but due to health concerns during detention because of the ongoing corona pandemic.

Multiple human rights organisations called on the Indonesian authorities to release Paulus Suryanta Ginting, Dano Tabuni, Charles Kossay, Arina Lokbere and Ambrosius Mulait earlier from detention as the imprisonment in overcrowded prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic poses an unpredictable risk to the detainees’ health. The appeals followed a global call by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the early release of convicts to slow down the transmission of the virus in detention facilities. On 11 May 2020, the five activists and guarantors signed multiple documents for their early release on the 12 May. However, a political intervention from the central government resulted in the cancellation of their planned release.

Update on trial against protesters in relation to September Riots in Wamena
Seven defendants who had been arrested in relation to the riot in Wamena on 23 September 2019 were sentenced to nine months imprisonment. They were released before serving their full sentence following the regulation issued by the Law and Human Rights Ministry to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in overcrowded correctional facilities. Five other defendants are currently undergoing teleconference trials at the District Court in Biak. The trials will continue with the prosecutor’s demand and the evidentiary hearing.

Judges of the Jayawijaya district court sentenced the defendant Teresta Tega Iyaba to four years imprisonment. She was found guilty of arson (Article 187 KUHP) and incitement (Article 160 KUHP). On 30 April 2020, the high court raised the sentence to six years imprisonment as initially demanded by the public prosecutor. The lawyers filed an objection against the verdict to the supreme court on 14 May 2020.

Update on trials in relation to Exodus student riot in Waena on 23 September 2019
The treason trial against photographer and filmmaker Assa Asso, who was arrested during the student riot in Waena, Jayapura on 23 September 2020 is still ongoing. Asso was charged with multiple indictments among them treason (Article 106 KUHP), criminal conspiracy (Article 110 KUHP), incitement (Article 160 KUHP) and others for sharing a video about the riot on 28 August in Jayapura on his Facebook account. The evidentiary hearing and examination of the defendant was three times cancelled and was rescheduled again to 4 June 2020. The lawyers demanded Assa Asso’s release with the condition to attend all trial hearings. They fear that the quick spreading of the Coronavirus in overcrowded detention facilities at the Papuan Regional Police could pose a serious health risk to Assa Asso and other detainees.

Four Papuan activists in Manokwari sentenced to 9 months imprisonment
Court sessions in the trial against Erik Aliknoe, Yunus Aliknoe and Pende Mirin at the Manokwari District Court were delayed three times, the public prosecutor demanded a sentence of 10 months imprisonment for the three activists. According to the public prosecutor, the trial procedures showed that the three defendants committed incitement (Article 160 KUHP). However, the demands did not contain any reference to Articles 106 KUHP on treason and 110 KUHP on criminal conspiracy, as initially listed in the indictment. On 4 June, the judge found the three activists guilty of incitement and sentenced them to nine months imprisonment to be reduced by the period of detention. Erik Aliknoe, Yunus Aliknoe and Pende Mirin had organised a peaceful demonstration against racism in Manokwari on 3 September 2013. They will be released from detention next week.

On 19 May 2020, judges of the Manokwari District Court found political activist Sayang Mandabayan guilty of treason and sentenced her to nine months imprisonment. The public prosecutor had demanded a sentence of ten months imprisonment during the previous court hearing. Mandabayan and the public prosecutor accepted the verdict. She was released on 3 June 2020. Sayang Mandabyan was arrested on 2 September at the Manokwari airport for bringing hundreds of small Morningstar Flags in her suitcase.

Four political activists in Sorong found guilty
Judges of the Sorong district court found Yoseph Laurens Syufi, Paulus Miwak Kareth, Manase Baho and Herman Sabo guilty of treason and sentenced them to eight months and two weeks imprisonment. The public prosecutor did not file an objection against the verdict although he had demanded a sentence of one year and four months. The activists were released on 31 May 2020 (see intro image, source: Jubi). Paulus Miwak Kareth stated after the release that he and the other defendants were not treated fairly - police officers arrested them without warrants and intimidated them during detention. The activists had organised a peaceful demonstration in Sorong on 17 and 18 September 2019.