17 Apr 2020

Political prisoners in Indonesia appeal to UN

7:34 pm on 17 April 2020

Sixty three political prisoners charged with treason in Indonesia have appealed to the United Nations for immediate release.

Izaak Siahaja and Pelpina Siahaja.

Izaak Siahaja and Pelpina Siahaja. Photo: Veronica Koman

Lawyers Jennifer Robinson and Veronica Koman, supported by human rights organisation TAPOL, filed the joint appeal with the UN working group on Arbitrary Detention and UN Special Rapporteurs.

The prisoners comprise 56 West Papuans, five Moluccans, one Indonesian and a Polish citizen serving a seven-year sentence after being arrested when he visited Papua province as a tourist.

The lawyers said all 63 were being arbitrarily detained, in violation of Indonesia's international human rights obligations

While most are on remand, seven have been sentenced and others are currently on trial.

The majority (56) were arrested during last year's month of mass protests in West Papua, dubbed 'the West Papua Uprising', for offences including displaying the Papuan Morning Star or Moluccan flags, and being members of political organisations which support self-determination.

They are now at risk of contracting Covid-19 in crowded, unsanitary prisons from where Indonesia recently released 30,000 inmates, the lawyers said.

"Their detention in is now not only unlawful but life-threatening. All 63 prisoners should be immediately and unconditionally released," Ms Robinson said.

Sayang Mandabayan breast feeds her one-year-old in prison.

Sayang Mandabayan breast feeds her one-year-old in prison. Photo: Veronica Koman

To avoid "catastrophic consequences" in jails, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for political prisoners to be released and for prisons musters to be reduced.

The lawyers said the 63 political prisoners posed no threat to society.

They include Sayang Mandabayan, a 34-year old mother of three young children. She was arrested in September 2019 and charged with treason after speaking at protests during the West Papua Uprising. Police found 1500 small Morning Star flags in her bag.

Following her arrest, Ms Mandabayan lost her job at Sorong City Council. Imprisoned in West Papua's Manokwari, she is only occasionally allowed to breast feed her youngest child.

Also among the 63 is the first non-Papuan Indonesian to be charged with treason in relation to the West Papuan self-determination movement, Paulus 'Suryanta' Ginting of the Indonesian People's Front for West Papua.

Protest march in Jayapura against racism towards Papuans in Indonesia, 19 August 2019

Dozens of activists have been held in custody after participating in large widespread anti-racism and pro-independence protests in West Papua last year, such as this demonstration in Jayapura, 19 August, 2019. Photo: Supplied

The group also includes the elderly couple, Izaak Siahaja (80) and Pelpina Siahaja (72), who were convicted of treason and sentenced to fives years in prison for hanging the banned Benang Raja flag, the banner of the Republic of the South Moluccas, inside their home.