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Top-down development fuelling unrest in Papua

April 11, 2014

At the end of March 2014, there were at least 73 political prisoners in Papuan jails.

In two separate cases, six men arrested in Sasawa in February and two men arrested in Sarmi in December 2013 are facing trial for conspiracy to commit treason under Articles 106 and 110 of the Indonesian Criminal Code. While the Sasawa detainees are accused of possession of weapons and being members of the West Papuan National Army (Tentara Nasional Papua Barat, TNPB), Edison Werimon and Soleman Fonataba in the Sarmi arrests were charged because they were found in possession of West Melanesian 14-Star flags and other allegedly treasonous documents.

The charge of conspiracy to commit treason continues to be applied to a wide range of alleged offences, including peaceful political activities such as the possession of flags. The arrests of Werimon and Fonataba, which took place just weeks ahead of the January visit of the Melanesian Spearhead Group delegation, suggests that Indonesia is working to suppress a developing Melanesian identity among indigenous Papuans.

Interviews conducted by local human rights workers revealed that in both the case of the Kerom civilians arrests and the 26 November Jayapura arrests, Jayapura police had fabricated the contents of the police investigation reports. Prison authorities continue to refuse urgent medical treatment needed for Stephanus Banal, who sustained serious injuries after being shot by police in a raid in Oksibil. Failure on the part of the authorities to meet their legal obligations to provide fair trials and adequate healthcare to political detainees continues to exacerbate tensions between indigenous Papuans and the state.

Since June 2013, students from the Papuan Student Youth Movement (Gerakan Mahasiswa Pemuda Rakyat Papua, Gempar-P) have been holding demonstrations condemning the secretive drafting of the Special Autonomy Plus (Otsus Plus) bill. Security forces have continued to react repressively by dispersing these demonstrations and ill-treating protestors. A demonstration organised by Gempar-P on 11 March was dispersed by Jayapura police on the grounds that, among other reasons, the group was not registered with the Department of National Unity and Politics (Kesatuan Bangsa dan Politik, Kesbangpol). This is a recurrent technique used by police to de-legitimise and control indigenous civil society groups, who generally find that if they do attempt to register with the Kesbangpol, their applications are ignored.

Indonesia’s top-down approach to development in Papua, as well as its unwillingness to consider a range of Papuan views, appears to be causing increasing unrest. When criticisms are expressed through peaceful protest, these actions are met with heavy-handed tactics leading to further unrest. Intransigent government approaches to development are in this way becoming a significant factor in fuelling instability Papua.

For the full round-up of arrests, releases, political trials and news, please see the attached Update.

With best wishes and in solidarity,

Papuans Behind Bars team

Papuans Behind Bars March 2014.docx

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