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WEST PAPUA: Harsh Indonesian rule of political prisoners

WEST PAPUA: Website highlights harsh Indonesian rule of political prisoners

by Daniel Drageset
April 23, 2013

http://www.pmc.aut.ac.nz/pacific-media-watch/west-papua-website-highlights-harsh-indonesian-rule-political-prisoners-8269


Papuans Behind Bars.

A new website focused on West Papuan political prisoners primarily targets an international audience, says human rights advocate Paul Membrasar.

He is secretary of the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy of Papua (ElsHAM Papua) and is one of the founders of the website.

The Papuans Behind Bars website, who is supported by a range of human rights NGOs internationally as well as in Jakarta, displays the images and profiles of several of the at least 40 political detainees being held in Papuan jails today.

The website is intended to support advocacy for the rights of the political prisoners. According to several human rights organisations, these prisoners have been subject to torture, denied access to lawyers, been forced to confess as well as other human rights violations.

External pressure
Membrasar, 49, says he is convinced that if more pressure was put on the Indonesian government the situation will improve:

I think through international pressure [is] the only way, because it’s in their [Indonesia’s] interest with other countries, for example Western countries.

When it comes to putting pressure on the Indonesian central government, Australia and New Zealand have an especially important role, according to Membrasar:

I think here in the Pacific region, Australia and New Zealand play important roles in pushing for more respect for human rights. And for Indonesia, I think the two countries must repeatedly remind Indonesia of its obligations to do more, to respect the human rights and the rights to live, and the rights to self-expression, freedom of expression in West Papua, and do not always resort to violence.

The founder of the Papuans Behind Bars website encourages Australia and New Zealand to never cease in campaigning for human rights when interacting with Indonesia:

What ordinary West Papuans are doing in the streets in their demonstrations, in enforcing their opinions, are mostly non-violent, so the response should be – from the Indonesian state – should be non-violent in manner. There’s no need to resort to violence I think. So Australia and New Zealand must all the time remind Indonesia that if they want to, they want West Papuans to feel that they’re part of Indonesian state, they have to be more humane in treating the West Papuans. So let them, let them express their thoughts and feelings, and I think there’s no danger in it.

Awareness
A main goal of the website is to bring awareness about the situation that the 40 political prisoners are in.

By accessing it, you are able to find detailed information about the conditions of the prisoners, and you are encouraged to take action in various ways. According to Membrasar, the prisoners are completely disregarded by the Indonesian central government, which does not even acknowledge them:

The reality is that the Indonesian state refuses to recognise that they are genuine. They are arrested because of their political expressions. They were actually tried or charged through criminal charges, not political charges. […] So we need to bring to the attention to as many people as possible, so they’ll not endure torture in prison, but they will be respected. They need to have access to services like health treatment and have family visit them in prison etcetera.

Three demands
The Civil Society Union for the Upholding of Law and Human Rights in the Land of Papua, which, together with a number of human rights NGOs, launched the Papuans Behind Bars website last week, has three demands to the Indonesian central government, according to a recent press release. They are:

1. Release all political prisoners in Papuan prisons in Papua and immediately begin a peace dialogue with the Papuan people.

2. Guarantee the rights of political prisoners, including access to health care and legal services.

3. Especially the Coordinating Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs, to meet with political prisoners who are languishing in various Papuan jails to get fact for their situation and existence.

The union emphasises that Indonesia has ratified the International Conventions against Torture as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which, if enforced, would guarantee a humane treatment of the political prisoners in West Papua.

No government response
So far the Indonesian government has not voiced any opinion on the website. Membrasar underlines that the work he and his colleagues are doing adheres to the laws in Indonesia.

As the West Papuan native sees it, adhering to laws and regulations is the most constructive way of working for human rights in the Indonesian-ruled province:

The best way to do [this] is to follow what the government allows us to do, that is to follow the procedures and to follow the rules. We have people who come to our office, people who come with complaints and reports of injustices. And the only way to do this is to follow the legal procedures, like employing lawyers – human rights lawyers – who work for human rights organisations.

Pacific Media Watch interviewed the activist. You can listen to the full interview on YouTube and read the transcript below:

DD: What are the reasons for starting up the website Papuans Behind Bars?

PM: Firstly it is a coalition work of a number of human rights organisations and groups, as well as individuals here in West Papua. The reason is firstly because of the state denial of the treatment of political prisoners. And also we have recorded through our reports bad treatment for those arrested for treason, and the treatment they endure during their arrest and detention. We need to write this to other people so they know that the conditions can be improved.

DD: What do you hope to achieve with this website?

PM: We need to bring awareness on the treatment of political prisoners, and we need to do that in order to promote rule of law and that the rights of the political prisoners are respected. And what the Indonesian state has numerously expressed in the media that this country is based on the rule of law.

DD: What have the people featured on this website done?

PM: The reality is that the Indonesian state refuses to recognise that they are genuine. They are arrested because of their political expressions. They were actually tried or charged through criminal charges, not political charges. So we need to write this, because when criminal charges are held against them they will be treated not as political prisoners. These are the reasons why they endure violence during the arrest. Even when they serve the sentence. So we need to bring to the attention to as many people as possible, so they’ll not endure torture in prison, but they will be respected. They need to have access to services like health treatment and have family visit them in prison etcetera.

DD: I would imagine that the Indonesian authorities do not like the work you are doing with your website Papuans Behind Bars. What have been the reactions from the Indonesian authorities so far?

PM: As far as I’m concerned, no statement issued by any government representatives with regards to the launch of the website. We might assume that the state might be unhappy with this, but I think that we are not doing anything against the state. What we are doing is to bring awareness, and to inform the state that they have obligations to do with regards to the rights of the citizens, including those who are detained and are undergoing legal process. The Indonesian state must acknowledge that they have obligations to fulfil towards their citizens.

DD: What responses have you received about your website so far?

PM: The media is positive, the local media here in West Papua, and also in Indonesia. And from NGOs, they are happy that we are doing something right. I think the general people are happy about it, that at least something is done about the political prisoners, that at least their assistance is recognised. In order to counter what Indonesian coordinating minister for law and security who denies that there are political prisoners in West Papua. That is one of the main reasons why this website is created.

DD: How will you and your colleagues work with the Papuans Behind Bars website in the coming months now?

PM: We’ll be doing things like gathering information and putting information into other websites, basically updating. Through that we will monitor the situation, the treatment, the situation of the prisoners and all freedoms in Papua.

DD: How difficult is it to do that work, Paul?

PM: I think the difficulty probably in gaining access into the prisons. We might do some good lobbying in order to gain access into the prisons and to meet the prisoners.

DD: What can normal people that are angry about the situation in West Papua do?

PM: The best way to do is to follow what the government allow us to do, that is to follow the procedures and to follow the rules. We have people who come to our office, people who come with complaints and reports of injustices. And the only way to do this is to follow the legal procedures, like employing lawyers – human rights lawyers – who work for human rights organisations. We need to improve their ability and also the number of lawyers. We need to have more lawyers here.

DD: And what about people in Western countries like New Zealand and Australia – how can they help?

PM: I think they need to engage more with human rights organisations in Papua, but also they need to probably provide assistance in capacity building I think, and also to do awareness in respective countries like Australia and New Zealand. Parliament and government also have to pay more attention and to voice the grievance that come out from West Papua. That’s probably things that can be done.

DD: How many political prisoners do you estimate are imprisoned in West Papua now?

PM: For the moment, 40, around 40, at the end of March this year.

DD: How do you think Indonesian authorities might be convinced to improve the situation?

PM: I think through international pressure. I think that’s the only way, because it’s in their interest with other countries, for example Western countries. I think here in the Pacific region, Australia and New Zealand play important roles in pushing for more respect for human rights. And for Indonesia, I think the two countries must repeatedly remind Indonesia of its obligations to do more, to respect the human rights and the rights to live, and the rights to self-expression, freedom of expression in West Papua, and do not always resort to violence. Because what ordinary West Papuans are doing in the streets in their demonstrations, in enforcing their opinions, are mostly non-violent, so the response should be – from the Indonesian state – should be non-violent in manner.

There’s no need to resort to violence I think. So Australia and New Zealand must all the time remind Indonesia that if they want to, they want West Papuans to feel that their part of Indonesian state, they have to be more humane in treating the West Papuans. So let them, let them express their thoughts and feelings, and I think there’s no danger in it.

DD: And finally Paul, can you just tell me a little bit how it is to work as a journalist in West Papua. Are there situations where you’re afraid of your life or experiencing anything painful?

PM: Human rights activism are not always safe here. For example our organisation, we were once sued by the Indonesian military here, and they demanded to apologise publicly through the media. And so far, we do not comply, because we feel there’s nothing wrong was done by us.

So we will stick to our work. And yes, it is dangerous. Especially those who really do the work, so it’s not easy. And even for journalist, local journalist, things are the same. The ones coming from overseas, it’s not easy, because people have to come through disguise and through undercover, in order to get information first hand.

*************

Daniel Drageset, 27, is a Norwegian radio journalist enrolled in the Master in Communication Studies degree at AUT University.

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