Police officer in Manokwari prevents lawyers from meeting with defendants

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The obstruction of lawyers visiting suspects and defendants during detention continues to be among the most common offences against human rights defenders in West Papua. The Manokwari Institute for Research Study and Development of Legal Aid (LP3BH Manokwari) has recently reported an incident in which a police officer named Andi Sudirman prevented three LP3BH Manokwari lawyers from meeting with two of their clients. On 16 September 2020, Thresje Julianty Gasperzs, Karel Sineri and Bruce Labobar came to the Papua Barat Regional Police (Polda Papua Barat) Headquarters in Manokwari to discuss the trial process with their two defendants.

Officer Sudirman did not allow them to meet the defendants in person even though the lawyers showed a court letter signed by the judge, permitting them to visit both defendants during detention. Instead, he suggested that the lawyers should call their clients to discuss all trial-related issues via cell phone. Sudirman rejected the visit, stating it would go against the social distancing rules, which are part of the policy for the prevention of the COVID-19 infections. However, for the lawyers, the measure is simply an obstruction of their work. All three lawyers were wearing face masks while multiple officers at the police station did not use any face masks or other preventing measures at all.

The obstruction of lawyers violates Article 70 of the Indonesian Criminal Procedure Code (KUHAP). The article regulates that lawyers can meet with suspects at any time and during any stage the law enforcement process. LP3BH Manokwari is considering to take legal steps against Officer Sudirman. They urged the Polda Papua Barat Police Chief to take sanctions against all officers violating legal provisions of the KUHAP.

The latest ICP report ‘Human rights and Conflict Escalation in West Papua’ revealed that the obstruction of human rights defenders was the most common type of offence throughout the years 2017 and 2018. The pattern of cases illustrated that lawyers are commonly prevented from meeting with arrested suspects and defendants or that communication between lawyers and clients is often hampered, as the detainee is not allowed to leave the cell.