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Indonesia: Papuan political activist faces life imprisonment

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On 9 May 2021, a special police unit, Satgas Nemangkawi, arrested Victor Yeimo, a spokesman for the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB) in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province. Police charged him with treason for a 2019 statement, made during anti-racism protests, calling for a referendum on independence.

Mr Yeimo was arrested without a warrant at 7.15pm when he was at a kiosk in Jayapura. Mr Yeimo’s lawyers received arrest and detention warrants the following day at 6pm, a breach of Indonesian criminal procedure law which requires an arrest warrant to be presented at the time of arrest.

On the first evening of his detention, Mr Yeimo was moved from Papua province’s regional police detention center in Jayapura to the Police’s Mobile Brigade Headquarters (Mako Brimob) in Abepura, without his lawyers being notified. This move to Mako Brimob signified higher security and more difficulties accessing Mr Yeimo and his lawyers have complained that family visits will now be more difficult. 

Mr Yeimo has been accused of violating the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP), namely Article 106 on treason, Article 110 of the KUHP on treason with conspiracy. As addition, he is also charges for violating Article 14 sections (1) and (2) on broadcasting hoax resulting in riot and Article 15 on broadcasting uncertain information resulting in riot of Law No 1/1946 on Criminal Law, Article 66 on disrespecting the national flag of Law No 24/2009 on Flag, Language, National Emblem, and the National Anthem, Article 160 KUHP on incitement, Article 187 KUHP on arson, Article 365 KUHP on theft using violence, Article 170 section (1) on collective violence, Article 2 of Emergency Law No 12/1961 on illegal possession of arms and Article 64 KUHP. Police have indicated that they will add more charges. Papua police chief stated that, “We are looking into all police reports, the process forwards will proceed based on each report, let him get old in prison.”  

Mr Yeimo had been on Papua police wanted list number LP/317/IX/RES.1.24/2019/Direskrimum dated 5 September 2019. Seven key activists arrested for treason at the time in Jayapura who were moved to Balikpapan in South Kalimantan province were collectively known as ‘the Balikpapan Seven’. Mr Yeimo was supposed to have been tried alongside the Balikpapan Seven. However, he escaped to Papua New Guinea and had just returned to Jayapura end of last year. Despite prosecutors seeking up to 17 years for the Balikpapan Seven, they were eventually sentenced to up to eleven months in prison. Prosecutors did not appeal despite the significant gap between their demands and the verdicts.

The Indonesian authorities have used these criminal code provisions, mainly Articles 106 and 110 KUHP, to prosecute tens of peaceful pro-independence political activists in Papua due to legitimately exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

Amnesty International does not take any position on the political status of any province or region in Indonesia, or any other state, including calls for independence. However, the organization believes that the right to freedom of expression also includes independence or other political solutions.

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