Papuan prisoners neglected – Govt fails to arrange return to West Papua

Human rights defenders have criticised Indonesian law enforcement institutions for their lack of commitment in arranging the return of Papuan defendants from detention facilities outside of West Papua. In the past year, law enforcement institutions in the province of Papua transferred eight defendants to detention centres in Balikpapan and Jakarta. The public prosecutors and the Papua Regional Police (Polda Papua) argued that the trials would pose a considerable risk to the security situation in West Papua.

Seven political prisoners who allegedly masterminded the Papua-wide anti-racism protests in August and September 2019 were transferred to Balikpapan, in the province of Kalimantan Timur. Meanwhile, all of them have been released from the detention. Steven Itlay, Buchtar Tabuni and Agus Kossay (see intro image: Agus Kossay (centre right) with lawyers and relatives after release, source: Jubi) were the last of the ‘Balikpapan 7’ to be released in early August 2020 after serving their sentence of eleven months in prison. The other four Papuan activists received sentences of ten months and were released in July. The team of lawyers, relatives and NGOs had to raise funds to pay for their transportation to West Papua.

Likewise, 16-year old Mispo Gwijangge was arrested in the town of Wamena on 10 May 2019 and later transferred to Jakarta for trial. The police charged him for murder for his alleged involvement in the execution of 19 road workers in the regency of Nduga. The trial against Mispo Gwijangge ended prematurely after the defence proved at court that Mispo was still below the age of 18 years. The procedure also revealed multiple shortcomings in the police investigation. On 13 July 2020, Mispo Gwijangge was finally allowed to return to West Papua after the high court had reaffirmed the verdict of the Central Jakarta District Court to acquit him. However, government institutions did neither arrange nor pay for his return to West Papua.

Gustaf Kawer, human rights lawyer and director of the Association of Human Rights Lawyers for Papua (PAHAM Papua), criticised the law enforcement institutions for transferring the defendants to other cities in Indonesia without arranging their return to West Papua.” This is the duty of prosecutors, the correctional institutions or the detention centres. The prosecutor [should] escort [them] back home. However, there the State does not take the responsibility. The state didn't arrange anything,” said Kawer in an interview with the Papuan news outlet Jubi.