Papuan Parliament, MRP and religious leaders criticise injustice and demand release of ‘Balikpapan 7’

The Papuan Provincial Parliament (DPRP) and the Papuan Peoples Council (MRP) have raised concerns regarding the demanded sentences against seven political activists during a trial on 5 June 2020. They have been charged with treason and other vague legal provisions for their involvement in Anti-racism Protests in West Papua throughout August and September 2019. Both government institutions, as well as Papuan Catholic priests and other religious leaders of the interfaith network in West Papua, published statements. They wrote letters to President Jokowi asking him to stand up for the seven defendants. Politicians and religious leaders fear riots and outbreaks of violence in West Papua if the seven activists are sentenced to long prison terms.

On 8 June 2020, a Catholic conference (see into image) published a statement which was signed by 57 indigenous Catholic priests from the five dioceses in West Papua. The statement demanded the immediate release of the ‘Kalimantan 7’, arguing that the demanded sentences by the public prosecutor failed to mirror the principles of justice and equality before the law. The priests referred to Pope Francis’ prayer for George Floyd and all other victims of racism during his weekly prayer at the Vatican on 3 June 2020.

They emphasised that the ‘Balikpapan 7’ were victims of racism and condemned their prosecution under the articles of treason and criminal conspiracy as an act of criminalisation. The statement also demanded a prompt resolution to problems reflecting the persistent pattern of racism in West Papua, among them the patterns of extra-judicial killings and torture, the restriction of fundamental freedoms and rights as well as the re-occurring issues of internal displacement in the central Papuan highlands.

The priests called on all government leaders to spread the culture of tolerance and living together in peace. They asked the Government of Indonesia to address the root causes of the West Papua conflict - namely the contrary views on the integration of West Papua into Indonesia, the settlement of human rights violations, discrimination and marginalisation of indigenous Papuans and development failures in education, health and economy - through a dialogue.

Likewise, interfaith religious leaders in West Papua published a similar statement addressed to the President of Indonesia on 12 June 2020. It called upon President Jokowi to enter into coordination with the public prosecutor and judges at the Balikpapan District Court, counselling them to refrain from a high imprisonment sentences and support the unconditional release of the seven activists. They also asked the President to immediately enter into dialogue as formulated and recommended by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

The interfaith leaders emphasised that the measures were essential to prevent the outbreak of further riots and violence in West Papua. They underlined their neutral position but pointed out that their religious belief demands them to reject injustice and racism in any form firmly. The procedural violations against Fery Gombo, Alexander Gobay, Hengki Hilapok, Buchtar Tabuni, Irwanus Uropmabin, Stevanus Itlay and Agus Kossay in multiple stages of law enforcement would stand in contrast to the fundamental principles of justice and human rights, stated the leaders.

On 11 June 2020, the DPRP sent a letter to President Jokowi in response to various calls from a variety of civil society stakeholders in West Papua in support of the 'Balikpapan 7', among them petitions from student organisations, a petition signed by 150 Papuan intellectuals and the letter by the conference of Catholic priests. The lawmakers consider the demanded sentences for the 'Balikpapan 7' as unfair and formulated four demands: (1) release of the seven defendants if they are proven not to be guilty under the indicted legal provisions, (2) humane treatment of the defendants including the possibility to be visited by their relatives, (3) stop the use of articles 106 and 110 of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) to criminalise indigenous Papuans. They also (4) urged the judges to consider the possible impact of heavy sentences for the defendants on the security situation in West Papua.

On 15 June 2020, the MRP chairperson, Matius Murib, handed over a document to a staff of the President's Office in which they called on President Jokowi to communicate with the public prosecutor and the judges at the Balikpapan District Court. They urged all stakeholders that the sentences against the seven Papuan defendants must meet the criteria of justice, impartiality and professionalism.

The seven Papuan activists were charged with multiple indictments including, treason, criminal conspiracy and incitement. On 5 June 2020, the public prosecutor demanded imprisonment sentences of 17 years for Buchtar Tabuni, 15 years for Steven Itlay and Agus Kossay, ten years for Alexander Gobay and Fery Kombo and five years for Hengki Hilapok and Irwanus Uropmabin. The judges will read the verdicts on 17 June 2020.