Seven Nonviolent Activists Sentenced to Prison for Speaking Against Racism in West Papua

On Wednesday, June 17, 2020, seven guilty verdicts were read in the courtroom of Balikpapan District Court in East Kalimantan, Indonesia for nonviolent activists charged with treason after organizing a peaceful protest against racism last August. Buchtar Tabuni, Agus Kossay, and Stevanus Itlay were sentenced to 11 months of imprisonment. Fery Kombo, Irwanus Uropmabin, Alexander Gobay, and Hengky Hilapok were sentenced to 10 months imprisonment. These sentences come short of those threatened by Indonesian prosecutors of up to 17 years imprisonment.

In a statement after the sentences were delivered, Usman Hamid, the Executive Director of Amnesty International Indonesia said “Once again, treason charges are being misused by the Indonesian authorities to target Papuans who are peacefully expressing their opinions. We call on the authorities to repeal or amend these vague and deeply flawed treason provisions and to stop their relentless harassment, intimidation, and attacks on peaceful critics, from Papua and beyond.”

These activists were arrested in September of 2019 after a demonstration was organized in response to a confrontation between university students and security personnel that included racist language being used against West Papuan students. Indonesian prosecutors have consistently threatened lengthy prison sentences for those who participate in nonviolent demonstrations and this case is no different.

Indonesia is considered the world’s third-largest democracy and sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council which means they have “a responsibility to uphold high human rights standards”. Despite their obligation to uphold human rights, Indonesia has consistently denied the right to free speech among other critical human rights to West Papuans. According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center in the Spring of 2019 only 37% of respondents in Indonesia said it is very important to have free speech in their country which has increased from 29% in 2015.

Today, Indonesia has imprisoned seven people for 10-11 months for the crime of peacefully speaking out against racism. Indonesia has an obligation to its people and to the United Nations to uphold human rights including the right to free speech and peaceful assembly. As of today, Indonesia has not allowed the United Nations to investigate its military/police activity in West Papua. West Papua Human Rights Center has presented a petition with the support of more than 9,000 US citizens to the President of the United States of America to publicly call on Indonesia to allow the United Nations to investigate.