Papuans Force Release of Abused Political Prisoners In Yapen
West Papuans Force Release of Abused Political Prisoners In Yapen
By Alex Rayfield
July 31, 2013
(Yapen) In dramatic scenes outside a remote West Papuan prison, local community leaders on Monday forced the Indonesian police to release to two independence activists jailed on charges of rebellion.
Earlier in the day the two activists, Edison Kendi (37) and Yan Piet Maniamboy (35) were sentenced to 2 years and 18 months respectively, in a Serui Island court house on trumped up charges of rebellion, an antiquated law used extensively by the Suharto regime to repress dissent in Indonesia. Although Suharto was overthrown in May 1998, the legislation remains on the statute books, and is regularly employed by Indonesian police to repress dissent.
Scenes from Kendi's and Maniamboy's trial, and demonstrations that forced their release in Yapen on Monday (Photos: West Papua Media)
According to witnesses Kendi was dragged naked into the court room while Maniamboy remained forcibly detained in his cell, unable to attend his own trial. Hundreds of Papuans from all over Yapen and the neighbouring islands and towns attended the trial. Some arrived by boats decked out in large Morning Star flags, the banned symbol of West Papuan independence. Scores more waved Morning Star flags in the crowd while the police appeared unable or unwilling to do anything.
Following the verdict, the accused’s lawyers immediately filed an appeal. As Kendi was returned to prison, re-joining Maniamboy, a large crowd gathered outside the jail demanding the men’s release. After intense negotiations between the men’s lawyers, police in charge of the prison and protest organiser George Ayorbaba, Kendi and Maniamboy were released to a jubilant crowd. The men are now free pending their appeal due to be set down for a later date.
The two men were part of a large group from the West Papua National Authority, a mass-based pro-independence group allied with the Federal Republic of West Papua. Maniamboy was reportedly appointed chief of Yawama Regency by the Federal Republic of West Papua, after that group declared the restoration of independence at the Third Papuan People’s Congress in October 2011.
Edison Kendi and Yan Piet Maniamboi have been detained by Indonesian police since 9 August 2012. The two activists were arrested for organising a nonviolent march in support of the United Nations International Day of Indigenous People.
According to Papuans Behind Bars at the end of June 2013 57 Papuan political prisoners were in jail. All are held for nonviolently expressing political opinions, a right acknowledge by the Indonesian constitution. However, in the case of pro-independence activists in West Papua, Papuans right to free speech is not upheld.
The treatment of Papuan political prisoners is gaining increasing international attention and sparking some new forms of protest. Australian Aboriginal Elder, Kevin Buzzacott from the Arabunna nation in South Australia, together with Jacob Rumbiak, Foreign Affairs Minister for the Federal Republic of West Papua and a large group of West Papuans and Australian supporters are currently travelling by land and sea to West Papua where they plan to meet pro-independence activists.
Activists from the West Papua National Authority are planning a welcoming ceremony. Both Buzzacott and Rumbiak say the Freedom Flotilla is part of a plan to revitalise ancient cultural ties between Australia and West Papua.
“We have a responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters from across the water” said Buzzacott.
The Indonesian government has not yet made a public statement about whether the Freedom Flotilla will be allowed to enter West Papua.