A Serious Injustice in Jayapura, West Papua
A Letter from Robert Steiner
I am writing about a very tragic matter of grave importance to Indonesia and its friends in other nations, as well as those dedicated to human rights everywhere. I am writing to you, even though you do not represent my own state, because of your concern with human rights in America and elsewhere.
My topic is the sad predicament of two persons probably unknown to you, Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, both of Abepura in Papua province, who have been tried in Jayapura on charges of rebellion under Articles 106 and 110 of the Indonesian Criminal Code, which caries a possible life sentence. These obscure and harmless individuals were also charged under Article 124 with expressing hostility toward the state, for which the maximum penalty is seven years. Their actual sentences were 15 and 10 years, respectively.
Their "crime" stems from a purely symbolic event which took place at Trikora field outside Abepura on December 1, 2004, where the Morning Star flag, a symbol of Papuan independence, was raised in commemoration of the declaration of Papuan independence in 1962. This continues to celebrated annually by some Papuans. About 200 people were present on this occasion.
When the flag was raised the police charged the crowd, firing warning shots and striking people with batons. At least four people were wounded by police bullets. A human rights monitor from the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy was beaten by the police as he attempted to photograph the attack by police. After the arrival of reinforcements, the police were able to force an end of the ceremony.
Filep Karma was arrested at the site of the ceremony. Yusak Pakage was subsequently arrested when he went with a group to the police station to protest police actions. Both men were subsequently charged with rebellion for their roles in organizing the .event. Amnesty International has declared both men to be genuine prisoners of conscience. That is, they have committed no act of violence or sabotage and have been imprisoned and tried solely for expressing a political opinion, in this case in a symbolic manner. This is grossly contrary to international standards of justice and offensive to any person of civilized outlook. Please note that I take no position about the issue of Papuan independence.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recently had words of praise for the government of Indonesia and, in particular, for its improving human rights policies. This is encouraging, but there is still much to be done. Indonesia gains nothing whatsoever from its arbitrary incarceration of such people as Karma and Pakage, who have done nothing wrong and have no harm in them. I suspect that it might take very little pressure from America to secure their release.
In summary, I call on the government of Indonesia to release Filep Kharma and Yusak Pakage immediately and unconditionally together with all other prisoners of conscience, to make public commitments that there will be no further arrests of individuals for exercising their freedom of expression, and to investigate allegations of human rights violations by security forces in Abedura. I further call for the repeal of the repressive legislation referred to above. Finally, I suggest that the government of Indonesia consider ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
This is all I have to say. I have written over fifty letters to Indonesian officials without results. I would be profoundly grateful for any assistance you can provide.