'Balikpapan 7' finally back in Jayapura

The last four political prisoners of the ‘Balikpapan 7’ have returned to West Papua after serving their sentence in a correctional facility in the Kalimantan Timur province. On 22 August 2020, Buchtar Tabuni, Agus Kossay, Steven Itlay, and Frenky Hilapok arrived at the airport in Jayapura, Papua province. The other three activists: Alexander Gobai, Feri Gombo and Irwanus Uropmabin, were released one month earlier. Many indigenous Papuans perceive the ‘Balikpapan 7’ as heroes who stood up against racism towards ethnic Papuans in Indonesia. Before their arrival, the political movement organisation KNPB called upon the people in Jayapura to welcome the activists. People gathered at the airport since the early morning to welcome the four activists. Joint security forces closely monitored the crowd and made random controls but did not disperse the crowd.

Right after arriving, the four activists went to the village of Depapre to pay their last respect to Yuliana Yabansabra. Yuliana passed away shortly before their arrival. She was part of the team of lawyers who defended the ‘Balikpapan 7’ at court. The lengthy legal process posed mental and physical challenges for the human rights lawyers. In July 2020, Yuliana Yabansabra was subjected to multiple forms of harassment, including threats, intimidation, and physical assault. Ganius Wenda, a young lawyer who was also part of the defendants team, passed away on 3 July 2020.

In the afternoon, the Balikpapan 7 attended a worship ceremony at the Cenderawasih University Campus in Perumnas III, Jayapura (see intro image, source: Suara Papua). Students and other civil society actors from West Papua organised the welcome service in which the participants thanked for the safe return of the ‘Balikpapan 7’ to West Papua. The organising committee asked permission of the Papuan Regional Police (Polda Papua) and the University Secretariat to hold the event. The worship took place without disturbances or restrictions.