Scores of Papua activists across Indonesia awaiting trial for treason

By James Balowski

Surya Anta Ginting, the national spokesperson for the pro-independence Indonesian People’s Front for West Papua (FRI-WP) — who along with five other Papuan activists is being held in Jakarta’s notorious Salemba prison awaiting trial on treason charges — is reportedly seriously ill.

bebaskan S.A.
“Free Surya Anta” – at an action outside South Jakarta Court for the Papua 6 pre-trial hearing.

Anta’s wife Lucia Fransisca told reporters that she visited Anta on November 29 and found that he and the other five Papuan detainees were ill and were not receiving proper medical treatment.

She said that although a doctor did check on Anta’s condition no physical examination was conducted as is usually the case with other prisoners. She said that Anta is weak, nauseous, is unable to stand, has a cold sweat and had been suffering a high fever all day.

Fransisca said that the Papuan prisoners are being held under “inhuman conditions” noting that Salemba prison is severely over-crowed and lacks clean drinking water and decent food. They six are reportedly being held along with more than 600 others who have to share one toilet.

Anta, who is a leading member of the leftist People’s Liberation Party and earned the government’s ire in 2016 for publically apologising for Indonesian repression against indigenous Papuans, is the first non-Papuan Indonesian to be charged with treason for supporting West Papuan independence.

Anta is one of eight activists caught in a wave of arrests following a rally on August 28 in front of the State Palace in Central Jakarta protesting racism against ethnic Papuans during which the banned Morning Star independence flag was flown.

Police arrested Papuan students Charles Kossay and Dano Tabuni over the rally on August 30 and the following day Ambrosius Mulait and Issay Wenda were detained for protesting the arrest of Kossay and Tabuni outside the Jakarta police headquarters. Later that evening, police arrested three women activists, releasing two but detaining theology student Ariana Lokbere. Anta was picked up that evening while eating at the Plaza Indonesia mall.

The arrests took place amid a wave of sometimes violent protests and riots in Papua and West Papua provinces in August and September during which thousands of people took part in rallies protesting racism against Papuans and calling for independence. The protests erupted after a video circulated of right-wing militia and military personnel racially abusing indigenous Papuan students outside their dormitory in the East Java city of Surabaya on August 17.

In addition to several rallies in Jakarta, Papuans demonstrated in at least 30 cities across the country. Rioting Papuans burned down the local parliament building in Manokwari, as well as prisons in Sorong, West Papua province, and Jayapura, Papua province.

Between September 9 and 17 police arrested eight Papuan activists in the Papua provincial capital of Jayapura including two student leaders Alexander Gobay and Ferry Gombo, as well as six activists from the pro-independence West Papua National Committee: Buchtar Tabuni, Steven Itlay, Assa Asso, Agus Kossay, Hengki Hilapok and Irwanus Uropmobin.

In Manokwari, West Papua, police arrested four activists including Sayang Mandabayan who was detained on September 2 for bringing 1,500 small Morning Star flags through Manokwari airport. Three student activists were also arrested on September 19 for making Morning Star flags: Erik Aliknoe, Pende Mirin and Yunus Aliknoe.

In Sorong, West Papua police detained four student activists — Herman Sabo Yosep Laurensius Syufi, Manase Baho, Eteus Paulus and Miwak Karet — for making and distributing Morning Star flags.

Like those in Jakarta, most of those awaiting trial have been charged with treason under Articles 106 and 110 of Criminal Code and face a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail — which can be doubled if convicted for mobilising others to commit treason.

The government has also accused Veronica Koman — an Indonesian human rights lawyer who tweeted videos and photographs of the Surabaya incident and subsequent unrest — of “inciting” the riots. Koman is residing in Australia and police are seeking Australian government assistance to force her to return and face trial.

This is not the first time Anta has been afforded “special” treatment. Following their arrest the Jakarta six were held at the Mobile Brigade Headquarters detention centre in Depok while police completed the investigation dossiers.

Legal advocates who visited Anta told reporters that he was being held in an isolation cell with no windows, one small air vent and bombarded with patriotic music 24 hours a day. This led to Anta developing an inner ear infection which was only treated after lawyers publically protested his treatment.

On October 22 lawyers from the Papua Advocacy Team repressing the six submitted a pretrial suit with the South Jakarta District Court challenging the legality of the arrests and raids.

The lawyers argue that they were carried out without warrants, were not witnessed by local community authorities and should have been proceeded with a police summons for questioning — all of which is required under Indonesia’s Criminal Procedural Code.

Police failed to appear at the first pretrial hearing on November 11 resulting in a two week postponement and on November 18 the Anta and the other five suspects were handed over to the Jakarta State Prosecutors office to await trail in Cipinang prison. Lawyers accused the police of trying to avoid the pretrial process and using the delay to rush through the investigation process.

When police did eventually turn up at a hearing on November 4 the court heard that warrants were presented the day after they were detained, local authorities were not present during the arrests and one witness related how in raid on a Papuan student dormitory police made racist slurs calling Papuans “orangutans”, stole personal belongings and pointed a gun at one of the residents. The sole judge hearing the case will hand down a verdict on December 10.

In a statement on November 18 Human Rights Watch called on Indonesian authorities to drop the treason charges and release at least 22 activists detained since August for peaceful acts of free expression concerning Papua. The group said that these abusive prosecutions show backtracking by President Joko Widodo’s government in dealing with human rights in West Papua and Papua provinces.

On December 2 police in the Papua capital of Jayapura charged 20 more Papuan activists with treason. The 20 are part of a group of 34 arrested two days earlier for planning to commemorate the anniversary of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) which is traditionally held on December 1 each year.

The latest batch of indictments brings the number of people now awaiting trial for treason to at least 42.

[For the latest news and information on Indonesia and West Papua visit the Indoleft website at or the Asia Pacific Solidarity Network’s (APSN) Indonesia and East Timor News Digest at]

This article has also been published in Australia in Red Flag and Green Left Weekly.

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