Crackdown escalates on peaceful assembly in West Papua

Peaceful Assembly

Crackdown against peaceful protesters in West Papua

There have been a series of arbitrary arrests of protesters in the region of West Papua in the last month. As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor security forces are responsible for a high level of repression in West Papua, in response to long-standing calls for independence. Hundreds have been detained or imprisoned for their peaceful pro-independence activism.

On 26th September 2018, at least 67 Papuan student activists were detained by the police for participating in at least three protests in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province. The demonstration organised by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) was held to support efforts by Vanuatu and other Pacific countries to highlight concerns around human rights in West Papua before the UN General Assembly. One student, Petrus Kosamah was allegedly assaulted by the police. All have since been released.

Human rights lawyer Gustaf Kawer said:

“The police do this repeatedly. There is no [stipulation] in the law stating that police can reject a notification…the proper way is for police to escort them until the demonstrators have achieved their goal… police frequently violate the law”

Police in West Papua often prevent peaceful demonstrations and disperse protests if a group does not have a police acknowledgement letter (“Surat Tanda Terima Pemberitahuan” or STTP) which is supposed to be issued once the police receive a notification from protest organisers. According to human rights activists, often the police do not issue the acknowledgement letter, particularly for pro-independence demonstrations.

On 8th September 2018, the Manokwari Institute for Research Study and Development of Legal Aid (LP3BH Manokwari) documented the arrests of protestors during a peaceful demonstration in support of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) in Bintuni, West Papua province.

According to LP3BH Manokwari, on the morning of 8th September, the mobile police brigade (Brimob) unit Sub Den-4 Bintuni arrested the protestors and detained them at the Bintuni sub-district police station. The chief of the Teluk Bintuni district police stated in an interview with the Papuan news outlet Suara Papua that the demonstration was carried out “without permission”. Yan Christian Warinussy, the director of LP3BH Manokwari believes the police conducted the arrests because some of the protesters were waiving the Morning Star. pro-independence flag.

On 4th September 2018, as many as 79 individuals were arrested for holding a peaceful demonstration in Jayapura. The crowd included activists and students linked to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULWMP) and called on the government to recognise their right to self-determination. The protesters also voiced support for Vanuatu's plan to raise the Papuan self-determination issue at the Pacific Islands Forum summit in Nauru. Police also reportedly asked the detained protesters to sign letters promising not to participate in future protests stating they would be charged if they repeat such actions.

A day earlier, on 3rd September, 14 people from the Papuan Democratic Peoples Movement (Garda Papua) were arrested in Waena for peacefully demonstrating in West Papua calling for the closure of the Freeport mining company over its adverse impact on local indigenous peoples. The protest also called for the building of markets for marginalised West Papuan women, and the demilitarisation of West Papua.

Human rights group TAPOL condemned the arrests saying:

“Arbitrary arrests are routinely used by the Indonesian police to deter citizens from exercising their rights to peacefully organise, associate, and express social and political aspirations. These latest incidents of mass arrests underscore both the iron grip of militarism in West Papua and tactics employed to deter civil society”
West Papuan students detained in Surabaya

On 17th August 2018, at least 49 West Papuan university students in the city of Surabaya were detained for police questioning. The students were preparing to host a discussion to mark the anniversary of the 1962 agreement signed between the Netherlands and Indonesia at the United Nations regarding the administration of West Papua.

According to reports, the students involved were initially subject to harassment by members of Indonesia's nationalist Pancasila movement. The group reportedly insisted the Indonesian flag be raised in their dormitory and threw projectiles at the Papuans. Later, the dormitory was raided by police who detained the students for questioning. They were held in custody overnight and then subsequently released.

Gathering against impunity forcibly dispersed

On 27th September 2018, police and a pro-nationalist group forcibly dispersed the weekly “Thursday protest” (Kamisan) in front of the Malang City Hall in East Java. The silent protest started in Jakarta in 2007 in front of the State Palace calling on the President to resolve past human rights cases. Over the years, the regular Thursday actions have spread to other Indonesian cities including Malang. The focus of this action was to highlight the continued smear campaign against those calling for truth and accountability for the 1965 anti-communist killings and other violations by the authorities.

Local human rights group, Kontras criticised the actions of the police saying “the forced dispersal was a dangerous signal for the future of democracy and the resolution of past human rights crimes that have occurred in Indonesia”. They said there was an increasing number of cases of restriction to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression in the country and this case adds to that list.

Silencing of political activists

On 25th August 2018, the regional Bangka Belitung police banned a public discussion on current political affairs on the islands by two opposition activists Rocky Gerung and Ratna Sarumpaet. In another similar event in Palembang, South Sumatra on 31st August, the hotel management cancelled a public discussion after the police warned both individuals that they were only allowed to spend three hours in Palembang City and had to leave after.

These events are part of an opposition movement to replace the current President in the 2019 elections. The police have said that they will not issue a permit for a public event linked with the movement because it could cause “public disruption or disorder”.

Amnesty International Indonesia said that “the actions from the local authorities and police to ban the anti-government movement are a clear restriction on the rights to freedom of expression and assembly which are enshrined in the Constitution and national legislation on elections”.


Environmental human rights defenders at risk

A new report entitled “Under the Shadow of The State’s and Company’s Violence: Situational Report of Environmental Human Rights Defenders for November 2017-July 2018”, by the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), highlights some of the challenges faced by environmental human rights defenders in Indonesia, including safety and security issues and the lack of legal protection.

The report documented 254 cases of violations against environmental HRDs, including farmers, student activists, fisherfolk and others. According to the human rights organisation, the violations faced by HRDs include cases of violence, intimidation and threats, arrest and criminalisation and even killings.  The cases occurred in 14 provinces with the highest numbers in West Sumatera, North Sumatera and Yogyakarta. A large number of disputes are related to land, infrastructure and mining issues with the perpetrators mainly the police, military and companies. ELSAM urged the government to strengthen the protection of environmental HRDs by issuing supporting regulations to the existing Environmental Law.

Political activists arrested and shot during security raid

On 23rd September 2018, security forces raided the Timika branch office of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), a political organisation that advocates the right to self-determination for the West Papuan people. During the operation, security forces arrested nine KNPB activists. During the operation, police entered the office and shot two KNPB activists who had to be hospitalised.

KNPB activist Jack Yakonias Womsiwor sustained three bullet injuries on the left ankle, calf and thigh while Erikson Mandobar was twice shot in the right calf. Seven others arrested were Pais Nasia, Titus Yelemaken, Vincent Gobay, Urbanus Kossay, Efesus Hisage Arius Elopere and Nus Asso who were temporarily detained at the Mimika district police station.

Police alleged that they had seized stored firearms and explosives at the office but KNPB activists have denied this claiming that the police had fabricated evidence to criminalise them and disrupt their peaceful resistance. Police also seized money, a pro-independence flag, documents, two mobile phones, one laptop and two computers and destroyed property at the office.


Woman imprisoned for blasphemy for complaining about noise from mosque

On 21st August 2018, an Indonesian court sentenced a Buddhist woman, Meiliana, to 18 months in prison for blasphemy after she was accused of insulting Islam for complaining that the neighborhood mosque near her house in Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra was too loud.

Amnesty International Indonesia demanded that she be immediately released from prison. Its executive director Usman Hamid said:

“Making a complaint about noise is not a criminal offence. This ludicrous decision is a flagrant violation of freedom of expression…sentencing someone to 18 months in prison for something so trivial is a stark illustration of the increasingly arbitrary and repressive application of the blasphemy law in the country.”

Indonesia has the world’s largest population of Muslims and sizable Buddhist, Christian and other religious minorities. Recent years have seen a rise in conservative and hardline interpretations of Islam, prompting fears that the secular nation’s long-standing reputation for tolerance and diversity is being eroded. Between 2005 and 2014 Amnesty International recorded at least 106 individuals who have been prosecuted and convicted under blasphemy laws.

Political activist prosecuted for Facebook video

On 23rd August 2018, a peaceful pro-independence Papuan activist, Agustinus Yolemal, was detained for posting a video on Facebook and charged with “disseminating hostility against the state ideology” under the Law on Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE Law).

According to Amnesty International, Agustinus Yolemal was in his house in Timika, Mimika District, Papua Province when dozens of police personnel arrested him and three other family members including his son without a warrant. After hours of interrogation, the police released his family members, while detaining Agustinus.

In the video that Agustinus posted on his Facebook page, both Agustinus and his son can be seen and heard jointly voicing slogans including “Papua, independence”, “referendum, yes”, “Indonesia, go home”, “Indonesia, stupid” and “Indonesia, animal”. At the end of the video, Agustinus said that some of the slogans were too “evil” and told his son not to repeat them.

Article 45A(2) of the Law on Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE Law), under which Agustinus has been charged, carries a maximum sentence of six years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to one billion rupiah (around USD 66,700) for any person who deliberately and without right disseminates information aimed at inflicting hatred or hostility. It has been used to prosecute individuals who use social media or other online platforms to criticise or ridicule abstract entities such as religion or “state ideology”. The vague and overbroad legislation has often been used to arrest, prosecute and punish persons for peacefully exercising their freedom of speech.