Deterioration of freedom of expression: Activists raise concerns over repression and arrests of Papuans

protest against the division of Papua Province and the establishment of a New Autonomous Region in Jayapura City in 2022, shortly before it was dispersed by police. – Jubi/Theo Kelen

News Desk – Freedom Of Expression In Papua 

17 May 2023

Jayapura, Jubi – In a recent online discussion on “Status and Trends of Freedom of Expression, Assembly, and Digital Rights in West Papua”, Esther Haluk, a women’s rights activist from GARDA Papua, expressed her concerns about the declining state of freedom of speech in Papua. She noted that there was a growing sense of fear among Papuans who wished to openly voice their opinions due to the government’s response.

Haluk pointed out that the deterioration of freedom of expression in Papua could be traced back to 2019 when large-scale protests erupted in response to instances of racism. She further mentioned that individuals from the Papuan community who participated in these protests were subsequently arrested and imprisoned.

“Some Indonesian people call us monkeys but when we fight against it, we are arrested. We are victims,” Haluk said during the discussion organized by SAFEnet and TAPOL on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

According to Haluk, whenever Papuans exercise their freedom of expression to voice the truth, they are consistently met with opposition from the military and police forces. Haluk shared that she personally experienced being arrested for participating in a peaceful protest in May 2022. However, at the police station she was questioned about her social media posts instead.

“So at that time we were taken to the police station not because of the protest but rather due to our social media posts. My Facebook account was hacked three times after I posted some comments on the news,” Haluk explained.

Haluk further emphasized that the policies implemented by the Indonesian government do not align with the wishes of the Papuan people, particularly in relation to the expansion of Papua Province through the establishment of new provinces. However, when Papuans protested against the policy, they were arrested.

“We refuse to accept the policies enforced in Papua because they do not positively impact our lives. We are witnessing ecological destruction that poses a threat to our existence, as well as issues of land appropriation. It is our fundamental right to express ourselves and engage in peaceful protests, yet the government responds by deploying a significant number of military and police personnel to suppress Papuan voices,” Haluk asserted.

She further expressed her view that Indonesia, being a democratic nation, should uphold and honor the freedom of expression of Papuans. In Haluk’s perspective, the way the Indonesian government treats Papuans indicates that Papuans are not viewed as a part of Indonesia.

“We intended to conduct a peaceful protest, so why did the government resort to sending in the police and military to forcibly disperse us? We were simply exercising our rights, so why the use of such excessive force by the military and police? Based on our experiences as Papuans, it feels as though our rights hold no significance and are not acknowledged within Indonesia,” Haluk stated.

Also speaking in the online forum, Ian Moore of the political resistance campaign TAPOL revealed there were 21 instances of arbitrary dispersals that took place in 2022 according to the Tapol West Papua 2022 report “Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly”.

Moore highlighted that most of the incidents occurred in Papua Province, particularly in Jayapura. However, similar incidents were also reported in other parts of West Papua, especially in Sorong, and Central Papua.

Moore further stated that various police units were involved in the dispersal of peaceful demonstrations in Papua, ranging from standard units to special task forces such as the Nemangkawi Task Force, the Mobile Brigade Corps, and police intelligence agencies

Meanwhile, Made Supriatma, a researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said the State continued to oppress Papuans by deploying military forces to deal with their protests. This response, Supriatma added, was excessively brutal and amounts to repression against Papuans.

Supriatma noted that various protests by Papuans indicate a growing sense of nationalism, particularly among the youth in Papua. Therefore, the Indonesian government should engage in dialogue with Papuans to address their concerns and listen to their demands.

“Papua has a strong movement, and young Papuans are eager to voice their opinions and participate in protests, even in the face of military repression,” Supriatma said. (*)


Broken promises: Zenegi residents in Merauke demand SIS accountability  

News Desk – Zenegi 16 May 2023

Merauke, Jubi – The residents of Zenegi Village, a village located in Merauke’s Animha District in South Papua, consider the presence of Selaras Inti Semesta Ltd. (SIS), a subsidiary of the Medco Group engaged in plantation, for approximately 15 years has not yielded any positive outcomes for the local community.

SIS reportedly began conducting operations in Zenegi in 2008, and it holds a land concession from the government spanning 164,400 hectares that covers most of Zenegi Village, as well as Buepe Village in Kaptel District.

Zenegi village head Natalis Basik-Basik told Jubi on Sunday, May 14, 2023, when SIS initially arrived in 2008, they attempted to communicate, negotiate, and socialize with the community.

The company also entered into various agreements with the local community and landowners’ clans. However, up to the present time, the community has not been shown or given any Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) document from SIS.

“SIS claimed that the agreement would be documented in an MoU, but to this day, neither I nor the people here have witnessed, received, or had the opportunity to read the document’s contents. They verbally informed us that the agreement pertained to the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR),” Basik-Basik said.

Basik-Basik mentioned that SIS pledged to fulfill their social responsibility by contributing to the community’s welfare. This included constructing houses for the community, supporting children’s education costs from elementary school to college, and hiring local workers. The company also agreed to respect the community’s cultural practices, such as preserving sacred forests, sago hamlets, and hunting grounds.

However, said Basik Basik,  the company only recruited local workers in 2010, and they were only employed for a year. Since then, none of the community members have been employed by the company. Additionally, the company has not delivered on its promises of supporting children’s education and constructing houses as initially stated.

Rather, the company’s presence in the forest area has had detrimental effects on the local community. The hamlets within forests that used to be hunting grounds for the community are now gone. As a result, residents have to travel longer distances of 1-2 kilometers by motorcycle to find game and obtain other natural resources.

“In addition to the hunting grounds becoming increasingly distant, our sago forests, sacred sites, and revered woodlands have also suffered damage,” Basik-Basik added.

He further said that the company caused conflicts within the community, particularly concerning land boundaries. Several landowners in Zenegi disputed and claimed ownership of lands that the plantation company was utilizing.

“There have been disputes among community members regarding land boundaries but the company never facilitated any collaborative efforts to resolve these issues,” he said.

Zenegi Village is home to 670 individuals, with 128 families residing there. The village consists of five clans: Gebze, Mahuze, Kaize, Samkakai, and Basik-Basik.

Residents feel cheated

Bonifasus Gebze, a community leader in Zenegi Village, claimed that SIS had deceived the community for the past 15 years of its operation as there had been no change taking place. One of the SIS’ promises was to provide education to the children in the village from elementary school to college, but no student have been funded by the company until now. Gebze believed that the promises were nothing but lies.

“If children were given education, many of our children would have become engineers or working somewhere at this point. But those promises are lies,” said Gebze

Apart from education, SIS made commitments to construct houses for a number of residents and offer agricultural assistance to the residents of Zenegi. Unfortunately, none of these promises have ever been realized by the company either.

“We are required to send formal letters to the company seeking assistance, but even then, the aid we receive is limited to condolences and holiday-related matters. Meanwhile, the initial promises made by the company remain unfulfilled,” Gebze further explained.

Another resident of Zenegi, Yohanes Paulus, expressed that the villagers had lodged complaints against SIS with the Merauke Council. Jubi reporters attempted to contact SIS representatives in Merauke City but were unsuccessful as the location was no longer occupied by the company. (*)

Concern in Indonesia over illegal arms supply to Papuan rebels

There were 27 cases of buying and selling of weapons and ammunition by members of the military to rebel groups, says army chief  

 By UCA News reporter Published: May 16, 2023 11:15 AM GMT

 An Indonesian Catholic lawmaker has called on the army chief to explain the alleged sales of arms and ammunition to rebel groups by military forces in the restive Christian-majority Papua region.  

“This matter is very serious and we in parliament certainly want to hear a full explanation from the Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces,” said Christina Aryani, a lawmaker on the parliamentary commission related to defense, foreign affairs, communications, informatics, and intelligence.

During a media briefing on May 16, Aryani said the case of arms sales to rebels deserves attention so that effective prevention and action steps could be taken immediately.

She responded after military chief Admiral Yudo Margono made public a report on May 6 that says there had been 27 cases of buying and selling of weapons and ammunition in 2022 by members of the military to Papuan rebels, a drastic increase from one case reported in 2021.

“We appreciate the openness from the military on this matter which certainly makes it easier to stop this practice immediately,” Aryani said, adding that she wants to discuss the issue in detail to find out patterns, actors, and locations of such practices.

“We don’t want this very crucial matter to go away without a clear resolution,” she said.

She stated that this kind of practice is “very inhumane because it is the same as giving way to killing fellow soldiers and terrorizing civilians.”

Jones Douw, a Papua-based human rights activist and chairman of the Justice and Peace Department at Kingmi Church told UCA News that this is not a new problem but has been going on for a long time, both individually and in groups.

“It’s just a shame that it really isn’t being taken seriously. Even though this is an embarrassing matter that should be a serious record for the Indonesian government,” he said.

Jones cited several previous cases, including three soldiers who were fired and jailed for life in February 2020 for selling weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition to pro-independence groups and another case on March 12, 2020, where a soldier was also jailed for life for selling firearms and 1,300 ammunition.

“When things like this recur, it’s hard not to say that the conflict in Papua is sort of being allowed to,” he said.

“On the one hand, the Indonesian apparatus has always claimed to be carrying out various forms of operations to crush pro-independence groups, but is instead arming them,” he said.

Made Supriatma, a research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore who specializes in Indonesian security and military issues, said that this practice continues because of economic factors.

Soldiers or police “want to take risks because the economic value is large,” he said.

“One SS-21 gun costs 250 million rupiah (US$ 16,866) and the guerrillas are more than willing to get it,” said.

In a July 2022 report entitled Escalating Armed Conflict and a New Security Approach in Papua, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) stated that the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-PB), labeled as an armed criminal group by the Indonesian government, is one of the rebel groups that received an increasing number of manufactured firearms.

The report stated that the TPN-PB is estimated to have 400-450 manufactured firearms of various types, from SS-1, M4, and M16, obtained by seizing or buying them from the military and police.

TPNPB gets money to buy weapons in various ways, ranging from ransoms for hostages, extorting local business owners, donations from sympathizers, and misappropriation of village funds provided by the government, it stated.

Papua declared independence in 1961 after the Dutch colonial rule ended. However, Indonesia annexed the territory within two years, promising to have an independence referendum. The subsequent voting in favor of staying as part of Indonesia was widely considered a sham.

Indonesia’s occupation of Papua triggered an armed struggle for independence. The government responded with a heavy military presence to suppress the insurgency. The conflict left thousands dead and tens of thousands displaced.

Currently, about 16,900 military soldiers with combat skills are stationed in Papua, according to the advocacy group, Imparsial.

Last month, the military beefed up combat operations in the region following the killings of five soldiers by the TPN-PB. The soldiers were killed during the efforts to free New Zealand pilot Phillip Mehrtens, who has been held hostage since February.

Viktor Yeimo defends himself against treason charges, denounces systemic racism in Papua

International Spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee, Viktor Yeimo delivers his defense memorandum/pledoi on the treason case charged against him at the Jayapura District Court, Thursday (4/5/2023). – Jubi/Engel Wally

Jayapura, Jubi – On Thursday, May 4, 2023, Viktor Yeimo, the International Spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), presented a defense statement, or pledoi, in a hearing at the Jayapura Class 1A District Court in Papua Province, in relation to the treason case against him.

In his defense statement, Viktor Yeimo claimed that the treason charge against him was discriminatory and had political undertones. Yeimo further argued that the trial conducted at the Jayapura District Court had failed to provide evidence of any wrongdoing or violation of the law, let alone treason, on his part.

The accusation of treason against Viktor Yeimo was linked to his alleged involvement in the anti-racism protests in Jayapura City on August 19 and 29, 2019. These protests were to condemn derogatory remarks made towards Papuan students at the Kamasan III Student Dormitory in Surabaya on August 16, 2019.

On August 12, 2021, the Jayapura District Court registered the alleged treason case under the case number 376/Pid.Sus/2021/PN Jap. The trial was presided over by chief judge Mathius and member judges Andi Asmuruf and Linn Carol Hamadi.

When reading his defense statement, Yeimo stated that all witnesses presented by the prosecutor had actually proven the fact that he did not plan or coordinate demonstrations against Papuan racism that took place in Jayapura City on August 19 and 29, 2019. “At the August 19, 2019 action, I participated as a participant in the action against racism, and took part in securing the peaceful action at the request of students until it was over,” Yeimo said.

During the hearing, Yeimo argued that the witnesses brought forward by the prosecutor had actually corroborated his innocence. Their testimony had shown that he did not organize the protests in question. Yeimo maintained that he had simply participated in the protests as a supporter of the cause and had helped ensure their peaceful conduct upon the students’ request.

“During the protest on August 19, 2019, I merely acted as a participant and helped maintain a peaceful demonstration until it ended,” Yeimo stated in his defense.

Kamu mungkin suka

Yeimo further highlighted the testimony of Feri Kombo, the former head of the Cenderawasih University Student Executive Board in 2019, who affirmed that Yeimo was not involved in the planning or coordination of the anti-racism protests. Kombo was summoned as a witness on February 7, 2023, and testified that Yeimo had only given a speech at the event when requested by the protesters, and that the speech was intended to maintain order among them.

“I delivered speeches expressing my disappointment with the acts of racism in Surabaya. This aspiration is protected by the country’s laws as a constitutional right. As stated by the state administration expert witness and the philosophy expert witness, this right has a scientific basis,” said Yeimo.

In addition, Yeimo stressed that he had never been involved in participating let alone planning in the protest that occurred on August 29, 2019, which was confirmed by all the witnesses presented in the trial. Yeimo admitted that he took pictures and videos in front of the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP) office and the Governor’s Office, but did not join the protest.

Yeimo clarified that he captured photos and videos to share with journalists and the public outside of Papua since the internet network was cut off by the central government at the time. He added that the President Joko Widodo was found guilty of unlawful acts by a judge in the State Administrative Court in relation to the internet blackout.


Response to racism against Papuans

Yeimo further emphasized that the anti-racism demonstration was a spontaneous action taken by both Papuan and non-Papuan people in response to the racial insults that were directed at Papuan students in Surabaya.

“The 2019 anti-racism protest that spread throughout Papua was a spontaneous response by Papuans and non-Papuan sympathizers from various backgrounds including private sector workers, students, farmers, military and police, and others. Everyone was reacting to the racist remarks in Surabaya. The demonstration in Jayapura was organized by students and the Cipayung group, and there was no planning, conspiracy, or treason as alleged. My speech was to represent the Papuan people who felt outraged by the racist insults. I deny all accusations that link me to my organizational background and other activities that have no direct connection to the facts of the anti-racism protest,” Yeimo said.

Yeimo stated that during the protest on August 19, 2019, he spoke about the issue of racism and discrimination in Indonesia. He emphasized that these problems were not merely personal issues but rather systematic problems that were perpetuated for the benefit of the ruling economic powers.

“It is evident that racist views have led to Papuans being treated differently in all aspects of their lives. The negative stigma attached to Papuans is what led the mass organization and state apparatus to attack the Papuan Student Dormitory in Surabaya.”

In his statements, Yeimo’s arguments revolve around the issue of racial discrimination that Papuans have faced and how it is seen as a normal occurrence that the State tolerates. He highlights that when Papuans stand up against these injustices, they are met with accusations of provocation and charged with treason.

“This trial case proves it. Racism really exists in all these accusations and charges. Could the State explain why the Papuan race is a minority, with only 2.9 million people remaining, while in Papua New Guinea there are already 17 million Papuans?” Yeimo asked.

In his pledoi, Viktor Yeimo not only defended himself against the treason allegations but also criticized Indonesia’s lack of development in Papua. He raised questions about why the poverty rate in Papua remains the highest among all provinces in Indonesia and why the Human Development Index in the region has consistently been the lowest.

Yeimo pointed out the contrasting approaches taken by the Indonesian government in resolving the conflict in Aceh and in Papua. While the Aceh conflict was resolved through peace talks, Papua’s aspirations for independence have been met with violence and imprisonment. Yeimo questioned why the government treats the two regions so differently.

Yeimo pointed out that although Indonesia has enacted several laws to address issues of discrimination, freedom of expression, and special autonomy for Papua, these laws do not seem to be enforced in Papua, and their implementation does not benefit the indigenous Papuans.

“Isn’t that a structured crime against us Papuans? Can the government answer these questions? Or do the answers have to come from the muzzle of a gun? Why is the government avoiding solutions recommended by state institutions such as the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, the National Research and Innovation Agency, and others who present the studies on Papua problems?” Yeimo questioned.

Linguist witness competence in Yeimo’s trial questioned

During the hearing held on Thursday, the legal team of Viktor Yeimo, represented by the Papua Law Enforcement and Human Rights Coalition, presented a defense read by advocate Emanuel Gobay. Gobay argued that the prosecutor’s conclusion that Yeimo had committed treason relied solely on the testimony of a linguist witness who lacked the necessary expertise to prove the elements of the crime of treason as outlined in Article 106 jo Article 55 paragraph (1) to 1 of the Criminal Code, which Yeimo was charged with.

“As a matter of fact, during the trial, the prosecutor never presented a criminal expert witness. Instead, the prosecutor relied on a linguist and then concluded that Viktor Yeimo was guilty of treason,” said Gobay.

According to Gobay, Yeimo’s legal team had presented multiple expert witnesses who explained the components of the treason offense, which included the elements of intent, territorial separation, and participation.

“All elements mentioned in Article 106 are not proven based on the testimony of both the prosecutor’s witnesses and the expert witnesses we presented,” Gobay said.

Gobay expressed the hope that the judges would review all the facts presented in Yeimo’s trial. He asked the judges to re-examine the data provided by legal philosophy expert Tristam Pascal Moeliono, human rights expert Herlambang P Wiratraman, conflict resolution expert in Papua Cahyo Pamungkas, and criminal law expert Amira Paripurna.

Ultimately, Gobay made a plea to the judges to exonerate Viktor Yeimo, stating that there was no proof of the alleged offenses. He further requested the restoration of Yeimo’s reputation and the State to bear the trial costs. (*)

Constitutional Court already revoked article used to convict Viktor Yeimo 

News Desk – Viktor Yeimo’s Treason Trial 

8 May 2023

Yogyakarta, Jubi – The Constitutional Court has, in fact, revoked in 2007 the article used by the panel of judges of the Jayapura District Court to sentence Viktor Yeimo, the international spokesperson of the West Papua National Committe (KPNB), to 8 months in prison. Viktor Yeimo’s lawyer Latifah Anum Siregar revealed this on Saturday, May 6, 2023, a day after the conviction.

“The panel of judges, in their ruling on Friday, found Viktor Yeimo to have violated Article 155 of paragraph (1) of  the Criminal Code. However, the Constitutional Court has declared Article 155 to no longer have any legal force,” said Siregar.

According to Siregar, the Constitutional Court’s Decision No. 6/PUU-V/2007, which was read during the Plenary Session on July 17, 2007, clearly states that Article 154 and Article 155 of the Criminal Code are inconsistent with the 1945 Constitution. The decision also declares that these articles have no legal force.  “The decision explicitly declares that Article 154 and Article 155 of the Criminal Code are unconstitutional,” Siregar said.

After reading the verdict, the panel of judges led by chief judge Mathius and consisting of member judges Andi Asmuruf and Linn Carol Hamadi, ordered Viktor Yeimo to remain in detention. However, Siregar stated that this order was null and void.

“The detention was founded upon the verdict that found Viktor Yeimo guilty. Nonetheless, he was convicted based on an article that has been invalidated by the Constitutional Court. Hence, we argue that Viktor Yeimo’s confinement, which started after the verdict was read, is not legitimate,” she said.

She further urged the judges of the Jayapura District Court to abide by the Constitutional Court’s decision that invalidated Article 155 of the Criminal Code. She stressed that Article 155 should no longer be included in any indictments, prosecutions, or court decisions.

Siregar pointed out that the Constitutional Court’s Decision has explicitly stated that Articles 154 and 155 of the Criminal Code were abolished due to their excessive restriction on freedom of expression, which contradicts Articles 28 and 28E Paragraph (2) and Paragraph (3) of the 1945 Constitution. These articles were revoked because they were too often used to criminalize the articulation of one’s views.

In the treason case, Viktor Yeimo was alleged for his involvement in the anti-racism protest in Jayapura on August 19 and 29, 2019, which condemned the racist remarks directed at Papuan students at the Kamasan III Student Dormitory in Surabaya on August 16, 2019.

Viktor Yeimo faced two indictments in his case. The first indictment accused him of committing treason, instructing others to commit, and participating in it as outlined in Article 106 in conjunction with Article 55 paragraph (1) of the Criminal Code. The second indictment accused Yeimo of conspiring to commit treason, as stipulated in Article 110 paragraph (1) of the Criminal Code.

Yeimo faces two more charges in addition to the previous two indictments. In the third indictment, he is accused of the offense of inciting, ordering, or participating in treason by providing assistance or opportunities, according to Article 110 paragraph (2) of the Criminal Code. The fourth indictment alleges that Yeimo incited others through oral or written means to commit a criminal act, engage in violence against public officials, or disobey the law or official orders, which violates Article 160 of the Criminal Code in conjunction with Article 55 paragraph (1) of the Criminal Code.

On April 27, 2023, the public prosecutor found Viktor Yeimo guilty for the offense charged in the first count of Article 106 in conjunction with Article 55 paragraph (1) of the Criminal Code. The prosecutor sought a 3-year imprisonment sentence for Viktor Yeimo.

In the verdict read out on Friday, the judges declared the first, second, third, and fourth charges against Viktor Yeimo could not be proven. However, they found Yeimo guilty of breaking Article 155 paragraph (1) of the Criminal Code, and sentenced Yeimo to 8 months of imprisonment.

According to Siregar, the Panel of Judges’ decision went beyond the Public Prosecutor’s request, which is called Ultra Petita. Siregar argued that even if the judges wanted to sentence Yeimo based on an article not mentioned in the prosecutor’s charges, the article used to convict the defendant should still refer to the one in the prosecutor’s indictment. However, in Yeimo’s case, the judges sentenced him based on an article not included in the prosecutor’s indictment, which is now revoked by the Constitutional Court. Siregar pointed out that this verdict punished Yeimo with an article that has been declared invalid by the Constitutional Court.

According to her, the judges’ decision went beyond what was requested by the public prosecutor, which is known as “Ultra Petita.” Siregar argued that even if the judges wanted to sentence Yeimo based on an article not mentioned in the prosecutor’s charges, the article used to convict the defendant should at least correspond to the article in the prosecutor’s indictment.

Siregar said the Coalition for Law Enforcement and Human Rights for Papua is currently exploring different options and legal actions that can be taken in response to the decision made by the judges of the Jayapura District Court. (*)

Viktor Yeimo  sentenced to eight months in prison

Amnesty International Indonesia May 5, 2023

A google translate.

Original Bahasa link

Unconditional Release of Viktor Yeimo and Political Activists in Papua

Responding to the guilty verdict of the Jayapura District Court Panel of Judges regarding the anti-racism protests in 2019 against West Papua National Committee (KNPB) activists, Viktor Yeimo, Executive Director of Amnesty International Indonesia Usman Hamid said:

“Although we respect that the Jayapura District Court panel of judges handed down a lighter sentence than the demands of the public prosecutor, we consider that the guilty verdict shows the state’s neglect of respecting human rights. We need to abandon the use of treason and insult articles in the Criminal Code to punish peaceful activists and protesters in Papua, Maluku and elsewhere.”

“In Papua, the pattern of violence has been going on for a long time against those who advocate and even just practice freedom of expression and fulfillment of other human rights. Today’s conviction of Viktor Yeimo is just one example of the lack of human rights guarantees.”

“This will send a message to other activists and protesters that dissent and the peaceful expression of their views is not tolerated by the state. Even though the state has committed to respect it.

“We urge the state to release Viktor Yeimo and other activists who are imprisoned just for expressing their expressions peacefully in Papua. Because it is all guaranteed by the constitution.”


Viktor Yeimo, activist and spokesperson for the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), at a trial at the Jayapura District Court Friday, May 5, was sentenced to eight months in prison in connection with his involvement in anti-racism demonstrations in Papua which led to riots in August 2019. Sentence from the Panel of Judges lighter than what the public prosecutor demanded, namely three years in prison.

In addition, in sentencing the defendant, the Panel of Judges used Article 155 of the Criminal Code (KUHP), which contains broadcasting or showing letters or pictures that contain statements of feelings of hostility, hatred, insult or humiliation to the Indonesian Government.

The article used by the Panel of Judges is different from the four articles used by the Public Prosecutor. On 21 February 2022, the public prosecutor charged Viktor Yeimo with four articles in the Criminal Code, namely Article 106 on treason, Article 110 Paragraph 1 on conspiracy to treason, Article 110 Paragraph 2 on preparing for treason, and Article 160 on incitement.

One of Viktor Yeimo’s lawyers, as reported by the media, stated that the judge’s decision is known as ultra petita, namely a decision that goes beyond the charges and demands of the public prosecutor.

Viktor Yeimo denied all these accusations by saying he was not involved in planning the 2019 anti-racism demonstration and only took part in the action because he felt devastated by the racist treatment of Papuans.

Authorities in Indonesia have used the penal code, particularly the treason clause, to prosecute dozens of peaceful pro-independence political activists in Papua who legally exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

According to Amnesty International’s monitoring data from 2019 to 2022, at least 78 people in Papua have been arrested on charges of violating treason articles under Articles 106 and 110 of the old Criminal Code.

Under national law, the rights to freedom of opinion, assembly and association are also guaranteed in the 1945 Constitution, specifically Article 28E paragraph (3), Article 23 paragraph (2) and Article 24 paragraph (1) of Law no. 39 of 1999. It should be remembered that Article 23 of Law Number 39 of 1999 concerning Human Rights also guarantees that everyone is free to have their own political beliefs and to express opinions according to their conscience.

The right to freedom of expression, including political expression, is also guaranteed in Article 19 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which is further explained in General Comment No. 34 regarding Article 19 of the ICCPR. It should be underlined that Indonesia has ratified the ICCPR through Law no. 12 of 2005, which also means that Indonesia has a binding obligation to respect, protect and fulfill these rights.

Amnesty International does not take any position on the political status of any provinces in Indonesia, including their calls for independence. However, in our opinion, freedom of expression includes the right to peacefully express one’s views or political solutions.

Viktor Yeimo allegedly experienced discrimination by security at court

entani, Jubi – Emanuel Gobay, the coordinator of the Papua Law and Human Rights Coalition and legal counsel to Viktor Yeimo, said there was often discrimination by the security forces when guarding the trial against Yeimo at the Jayapura District Court.

Gobay said that in every trial, his client was always escorted by hundreds of security forces with combat equipment. This does not happen in other trials at the Jayapura District Court.

“This is disturbing our client mentally,” Gobay told Jubi in Sentani, Monday, April 17, 2023.

According to Gobay, the presence of an excessive number of security forces was because the Court requested them to secure the trial process. However, this is not the case in other trials. Therefore, Gobay deemed law enforcement officials discriminated against Viktor Yeimo, an Indigenous Papuan.

“The police and judges are not professional in carrying out their duties in accordance with Law No. 39/1999 on human rights,” he added,

He further questioned the security standards of the Court, “Inside the courtroom there should be no firearms or sharp weapons. But the reality is, there are hundreds of troops, carrying guns and other security support facilities, this means we are in bad condition,” said Gobay.

From these conditions, Gobay and his team have written to the Judicial Commission and the Prosecutor’s Commission to monitor the entire trial. “As a legal counsel, in conditions like this, it also weakens our perspective. The focus is divided, because there are additional facts about legal protection for the people affected by the entire trial process that occurs,” he said. (*)

Australia and New Zealand in the West Papua Conflict

A New Zealand pilot’s abduction focuses attention on Wellington and Canberra’s hands-off approach to the long-running conflict in Indonesia. 

By Xiang Gao and Guy C. Charlton April 29, 2023

The drawn-out hostage drama in West Papua over New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens has focused Western attention on this neglected area of the world. Mehrtens was abducted and his plane burned by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) on February 7, 2023. He was accused by the group of violating a no-fly zone it had issued over the West Papua region.

On April 16, rebel spokesperson Sebby Sambom stated in a recorded message that TPNPB has “asked the Indonesian and New Zealand governments to free the hostages through peaceful negotiations.” The group originally demanded that Indonesian authorities recognize the independence of West Papua, but more recently it indicated that it was prepared to drop the demand for independence and seek dialogue.

The West Papua Conflict

The western part of the island of New Guinea, often referred to as West Papua, is administered under the name Irian Jaya and now split apart into six Indonesian provinces: Central Papua, Highland Papua, Papua, South Papua, Southwest Papua, and West Papua. There has been conflict across the resource-rich region since Indonesia assumed control in 1963.

At the independence of Indonesia, the Netherlands had argued that West Papua was ethnically different from the remainder of Indonesia, and it was successful in arguing before the United Nations that the area should not be included in the new Indonesian state. The Dutch and later local Melanesian groups within West Papua asserted that the region’s cultural, religious, and ethnic differences mandated separate West Papuan independence. Nevertheless, the legal and ethical imperatives of an independent Indonesia occupying the entire territory of the Dutch East Indies, along with Cold War security concerns, led to the U.S.-sponsored 1962 New York Agreement, which enabled Indonesia to assert jurisdiction.

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Under the agreement, the Netherlands and nascent local West Papuan administration were dissolved in exchange for a U.N.-overseen referendum where the West Papuan population would be allowed to determine whether their region would remain within Indonesia or become independent. This vote, held in 1969, and called the Act of Free Choice, involved approximately 1,025 government-selected delegates. The delegates unanimously supported integration with Indonesia, a decision that was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in Resolution 2504.

The perceived unfairness of the process and the consequent denial of self-determination in the eyes of many West Papuans – coupled with discrimination, marginalization, and rights abuses by Indonesian authorities ever since – have led to simmering dissatisfaction and low-level insurgency for decades. Political and insurgent groups such as the TPNPB, Free Papua Movement, United Liberation Movement for West Papua, and the West Papua National Committee have found support with the indigenous West Papuan population due to ongoing suppression of political activity and the use of the armed Indonesian military and police.

Security forces have been used to stop protests, rallies, or discussions on human rights and political issues, and political and civil rights have been significantly curtailed. According to Human Rights Monitor, for the past several decades, many indigenous Papuans have feared becoming victims of arbitrary arrest, torture, killings, or enforced disappearance. And they have been traumatized due to the history of violent military operations across the island.

The Indonesian government has denied allegations of human rights abuses and displacement of civilians. Its prescription for the region involves economic development and the devolving of more autonomy, but current efforts have not resolved dissatisfaction and unrest among indigenous West Papuans.

In 2017, the U.N. Decolonization Committee refused to accept a petition presented by exiled West Papuan leader Benny Wenda, which allegedly contained signatures of 1.8 million West Papuans calling for independence, arguing that U.N. involvement in West Papua is outside the Committee’s mandate.

Violence escalated in 2018, following the shooting deaths of Indonesian construction workers and the mass arrests of West Papuan protesters who were marking the December 1 “Independence Day” for the region. In 2022, three U.N. Human Rights Special Rapporteurs called for humanitarian access to the region and urged the Indonesian government to conduct full and independent investigations into human rights abuses. More recently, the March 2023 Universal Periodic Review Report of the Working Group on Indonesia criticized the government’s human rights abuses in West Papua and called for a visit by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In the same report, Indonesia acknowledged some human rights abuses and the need for redress, noting that it was committed to delivering justice to the victims and their families. The government insisted that “[a]ccording to international law, Papua [is] an integral part of Indonesia.”

It is likely that violence will continue to escalate. On April 15, the chief of Indonesia’s armed forces, General Laksamana Yudo Margono, announced that the mode of operations against the TPNPB will be switched from a “soft approach” to “ground combat ready” operations.

The Response From Australia and New Zealand

Throughout all this violence and suppression, New Zealand and Australian governmental voices have been muted. Despite calls in some quarters for the states to back some form of international involvement in the conflict, there has been little recognition of the West Papuan situation in Wellington or Canberra. Both countries have extensive and growing trade relationships with Indonesia as well as defense and security cooperation. This cooperation extends from their bilateral relationships to regional and multilateral cooperation, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement.

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The silence suggests the limits of Australian and New Zealand “values-based” diplomacy and outlines the real constraints that geography and trade relationships have for middle powers with a commitment to human rights and values.

Australia and New Zealand’s relations with Indonesia, their largest neighbor, have been driven by the need to have stability and good relations for economic and security reasons. Yet these relatively simple objectives have been complicated by history. Both bilateral relationships are fraught with colonial and racialist baggage that has been part and parcel of many post-colonial state-to-state relationships across the Asia-Pacific.

First, while Australia and New Zealand supported Indonesian independence and the decolonization process – for example, New Zealand and Australian waterside workers’ boycott of Dutch shipping undermined the Dutch military effort to retake Indonesia – Canberra and Wellington sided with the Netherlands over the issue of whether West Papua should be included in newly independent Indonesia. To strengthen this position, Australia and New Zealand pointed out the lack of cultural and ethnological ties between West Papua and Indonesia and the potential harm to indigenous inhabitants.

Their support for a separate West Papuan decolonization process was nevertheless tempered by ideological and security concerns as members of the British Commonwealth and as members of the anti-communist Western coalition with the United States. Both Australia and New Zealand looked askance at Indonesian efforts to build the Non-Aligned Movement and they actively supported the Commonwealth against the Indonesian “Konfrontasi” policy in Malaya. In addition, Cold War ideological and security concerns played a role. Both states worried that various hostile political elements and/or ethnic conflict in Indonesia could provide an opportunity for anti-Western groups to secure a foothold in the region, or support a government that would dispense with Indonesia’s more traditional non-aligned policy in favor of a policy more aligned with Chinese or Soviet interests.

After the accession of the military-backed Suharto regime in 1965 and the end of Konfrontasi, these larger concerns led Australia and New Zealand to support the U.N. decolonization process and acquiesce to Indonesian control over West Papua and later East Timor.

More recently, relationships with Indonesia were seriously challenged with the Australian and New Zealand intervention in East Timor, which ended in the establishment of an independent Timor-Leste under the U.N.-sponsored International Force for East Timor (INTERFET). This U.N. mission, led by Australia and having a large New Zealand presence signaled a shift away from acceptance of decolonialist justifications for Indonesian territorial expansion and signaled a more human-rights based, less security-oriented policy approach by the two states. For a short time at the start of this century, it also ended most cooperation between Australia and New Zealand and Indonesia.

After 9/11 and the Bali Bombing in 2002, Australia moved relatively quickly to re-establish its security relationship with Indonesia, following the ruptures caused by Timor-Leste’s independence. This renewed effort is premised on the notion that Indonesian governmental capacity, security, and territorial integrity are crucial to Australian interests.

In 2006, the countries entered into the Lombok Treaty. This treaty focuses on the practicalities of various security arrangements between the countries, involving such things as terrorism, maritime enforcement, defense, and law enforcement. In the Treaty the states agreed to mutually respect the “sovereignty, territorial integrity, national unity and political independence of each other,” and pledge “non-interference” in each other’s internal affairs. These security arrangements and the respect for territorial integrity have limited Australian responses in West Papua despite the domestic sympathy much of the Australian public has given to the West Papuan population.

The thin line walked by Australia is evident in then Opposition Senator (and current foreign minister) Penny Wong’s 2019 website post, where she noted that Labor is distressed by “human rights violations” in West Papua while reasserting that the territorial integrity as enshrined in the Lombok Treaty “remains the bedrock of security cooperation” between Australia and Indonesia.

It could be expected that New Zealand would be less constrained by geography and security considerations than Australia when it comes to West Papua. In addition, the characterization of New Zealand as a normative leader in global affairs suggests a stronger voice in favor of human rights, applied in an even-handed manner. Recently, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta stated: “Matters such as human rights should be approached in a consistent, country agnostic manner. We will not ignore the severity and impact of any particular country’s actions if they conflict with our longstanding and formal commitment to universal human rights.”

Nevertheless, the range of joint security activities and cooperation, trade, and New Zealand aid programs indicate that the West Papuan situation will not impact the New Zealand-Indonesia relationship, nor will Wellington seek to use any bilateral influence or normative platform it may have to address the problems in the region. This is evident in Prime Minster Chris Hipkins’ criticism of the TPNPB for using hostages “to make a political point.”

In the Universal Periodic Review, both Australia and New Australia criticized Indonesia for the West Papuan situation. This criticism, while important and pointed, is likely the extent of Australian and New Zealand commentary and involvement in the conflict. Foreign policymakers in both countries have shown little willingness to address the unrest or human rights issues in West Papua. Despite ongoing human rights violations and growing violence in the region, the history of the relationships among the states and current economic and security interests necessitate good relations with Indonesia, precluding either Australia or New Zealand from using its good offices, leverage or normative authority from mediating the conflict.


Xiang Gao Dr. Xiang Gao is a senior lecturer and the head of the Political Studies Discipline at the University of New England, Australia.

Guy C. Charlton Dr. Guy C. Charlton is an associate professor of Law at the University of New England, Australia and an Adjunct Associate Professor at Auckland University of Technology.