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WPAN: In Papua Prisons, Abuse Routine for Political Inmates

May 21, 2010
May 21, 2010

Jakarta Globe Radot Gurning & M Irham

When I fell sick they didn’t take me to hospital straight away. They don’t care about us,’ Cosmos Yual said.

In Papua Prisons, Abuse Routine for Political Inmates

Papua. Indonesia is often hailed as the country with the greatest freedom of speech in Asia. But while antigovernment protests are a weekly and colorful norm in Jakarta, it’s a different story in the country’s far eastern tip of Papua.

Free access for foreign journalists is restricted, antigovernment protests are silenced by heavy-handed police and political dissenters are being abused behind bars.

Ferdinand Pakage is one such prisoner, serving his sentence in the Abepura penitentiary in Jayapura. He is blind in his right eye, which he said happened after one of the guards hit him there.

“Two years ago I was hit with a set of keys and I went blind in one eye. Now I get terrible headaches that I have never experienced before and I can only see out of my left eye,” he said.

Pakage is serving 15 years in jail for a murder he says he never committed. He was arrested during antigovernment protests in Abepura. Pakage is now losing his memory and staggers when he walks or stands up.

Despite demands for a full investigation from US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch, the guard, Herbert Toam, accused of carrying out the beating, still works at the prison. And while the prison doctor has recommended Pakage be treated in Jakarta, he has not been allowed to travel.

Cosmos Yual also needs medical attention. He lay shivering on a mat on the floor of his cell in the Doyo prison with just a thin piece of material covering his body.

“I’m in the second stage of tropical malaria. The doctor has just been to see me for the first time since I feel ill,” he said.

Yual said he had been shivering for the last four days. His face was pale, his eyes yellow and he still had a high fever. There was a foul smell his room, apparently emanating from the toilet just one step away from where he lay. He shares his 5-by-7-meter room with six other inmates.

“When I fell sick they didn’t take me to the hospital straight away. They shouldn’t have left me but they did. They don’t care about us,” he said.

While Yual described his treatment, the prison warden and two guards stood watch.

From his occasional glances at the warden it was clear Yual was choosing his words carefully.

“We don’t want violence here. We just want fair treatment. If they [prison guards] have personal problems, they shouldn’t take it out on us,” he said.

Yual was arrested while protesting against the US-owned Freeport mine in Papua, which has been a frequent source of unrest in the province. He was charged with assault and provocation and is now serving six years in prison.

Political dissent is not taken lightly in Papua; those who dare to raise the Morning Star independence flag face up to 20 years in prison.

That’s what happened to Filep Karma. He is serving 15 years at Abepura and has been put on par with Burmese human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi by Amnesty International because he has consistently employed non-violence to promote his cause.

He has been suffering from a bladder infection, but the only help he received was being told by prison officers to lift his legs to ease the pain. He has been waiting for almost a year to be treated in Jakarta, but recommendations for the treatment from the prison’s doctor have so far gone ignored.

The head warden of the Abepura prison, Antonius Ayorbaba, said he didn’t have the funds to send political prisoners to Jakarta for health care.

When these allegations of abuse and neglect reached government officials in Jakarta, however, the reaction was one of shock and denial.

Ridha Saleh, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights, (Komnas HAM), said he was furious.

“I will immediately request information from the head of the Abepura and Doyo prisons and demand they give us full access,” he said.

Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar also said he was shocked by the claims.

“We have not received any reports about any of this,” he said. “In which part of Papua did this happen? Thank you for the information; I will check and recheck it.”

But the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) indicated the neglect and abuse of political prisoners was no accident.

Syamsul Alam investigates violence in Papuan prisons for the group.

“Why hasn’t the government taken any effective steps to fulfil the health rights of prisoners? If they don’t give them the permission to have health treatments and leave them to suffer, then I strongly suspect it is intentional,” he said.

Following a KBR68H radio interview with Patrialis, Antonius was transferred to another prison in what the government said was a routine move.

Meanwhile, the ban against protesting remains in place in Papua.

This article was first broadcast on “Asia Calling,” a regional current affairs program produced by Indonesia’s independent radio news agency KBR68H

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