17 Feb 2012

Papuan separatists' trial seen as a PR loss for Indonesia

1:05 pm on 17 February 2012

A leading researcher on West Papua says the trial of five Papuan leaders for treason has hallmarks of being another public relations disaster for Indonesia.

The five were arrested last October at the Third Papuan People's Congress where they raised the outlawed Papuan 'Morning Star' flag and declared independence.

Earlier this week, the panel of judges rejected a bid by the defendants' legal team to have the case dismissed on the grounds that the five men are entitled to freedom of expression under Indonesian law.

Jim Elmslie of Sydney University's West Papua Project says security forces are pressuring the judges to deliver harsh sentences.

"But the previous case where people were sentenced to long terms purely for non-violent political actions like raising a flag, they've been taken up by people all over the world. And it doesn't make Indonesia look good to have political prisoners who are merely expressing their political convictions."

The trial continues today with witnesses for the prosecution to be heard, most of whom are members of the police force involved in the deadly crackdown on October's peaceful gathering.