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Five jailed over West Papua independence push

March 16, 2012

Five jailed over West Papua independence push

Michael Bachelard

March 16, 2012 – 3:34PM

Guilty of treason … West Papuan "prime minister" Edison Waromi. Photo: Polaris

FIVE activists fighting for an independent West Papua will immediately appeal their conviction and imprisonment on treason charges, handed down yesterday.

The men, including Forkorus Yaboisembut, the man declared “president of the Federal Republic of West Papua” by representatives of the district’s 200-plus tribes last October, were jailed yesterday for three years by Jayapura district court judge Jack Johanis Oktavianus.

The three year sentence was lighter than the maximum sentence of life imprisonment for the charge of “makar” (translated as treason or subversion).

The chief prosecutor, Julius Teuf had called for sentences of five years for the men, who were caught in a bloody crackdown after a national Congress of tribes had unilaterally declared independence from Indonesia.

As well as Forkorus, the five jailed men include “Prime Minister” Edison Waromi, Agustinus Sanany Kraar, Selpius Bobii and Dominikus Sorbet.

However, their lawyer, Gustav Kawer, told Fairfax yesterday that the panel of judges in the case had ignored crucial evidence that the Congress was held in the open and with the knowledge of security forces.

Appealing … Forkorus Yaboisembut.

The defendants had “even asked the Home Affairs Minister to be the keynote speaker,” Mr Kawer said.
“I don’t know if the ministers replied to the letters or not. We submitted the letters as evidence that the congress wasn’t held in secrecy.”

The independence declaration came at the end of a congress of indigenous Papuans — only the third such meeting since 1961, when the western half of the island of New Guinea was still under Dutch control.
But after the meeting had finished, police and army members began a violent crackdown in which six people were shot and killed and five arrested.

Muridan Widjojo, the author of Papua Road Map, said yesterday’s conviction and sentence showed that Indonesia’s legal system had still not adjusted to the introduction of democracy.

“What Forkorus and his friends did cannot be categorised as treason. There is no armed movement, there is no alternative government. What they did was just a symbolic thing,” Widjojo said.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Elaine Pearson said the charges were politically motivated and urged the Indonesian government to order the men’s release to show its commitment to free expression.

The executive of the Human Rights Law Centre in Melbourne, Philip Lynch, said the prosecution was “an affront to democracy and the rule of law."

"With Indonesia due to front the UN Human Rights Council for a periodic review of its human rights record, the global community should call on the government to fully and faithfully live up to its international human rights obligations. The exercise of democratic rights and freedoms must be protected by law, not criminalised,” he said.

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