Update on trial against ‘Balikpapan 7’ – Judges sentence Papuan activists to ten and eleven months imprisonment

The trial against the seven political detainees Fery Gombo, Alexander Gobay, Hengki Hilapok, Buchtar Tabuni, Irwanus Uropmabin, Stevanus Itlay and Agus Kossay (see intro image, source: Jubi) has reached an end. On 17 June 2020, judges at the Balikpapan District Court sentenced Buchtar Tabuni, Agus Kossay and Stevanus Itlay to 11 months imprisonment. Ferry Gombo, Alexander Gobay, Hengky Hilapok and Irwanus Uropmabin were sentenced to 10 months imprisonment. Papuan human rights lawyer, Gustaf Kawer, thanked all stakeholders for the support throughout the trial. The seven activists have one week to appeal against the verdict – Kawer stated that his clients are still considering this option.

Many stakeholders in and outside of West Papua have been expectantly waiting for this verdict after the public prosecutor sought particular long sentences for the defendants. He asked for 17 years for Buchtar Tabuni, 15 years for Steven Itlay and Agus Kossay, ten years for Alexander Gobay and Ferry Gombo and five years for Irwanus Uropmabin and Hengki Hilapok. The sentence was much higher than in other trials against political activists who had been charged with provisions of treason and criminal conspiracy after participating in protests against racism in August and September 2019. A large variety of stakeholders – among them the Papuan Provincial Parliament (DPRP), the Papuan Peoples Council (MRP), intellectuals, Catholic priests and other religious leaders in West Papua, human rights organisations and students – demanded the unconditional release of the 'Balikpapan 7' via public statements and other peaceful measures of support.

Many stakeholders feared that high penalties against the political activists could trigger widespread riots and acts of vandalism in West Papua.