By Steven Handoko
Jakarta, Apr 24 (efe-epa).- An Indonesian court sentenced six activists charged with treason to several months in jail Friday for their participation in protests condemning discrimination against Papuans in August last year.
The Jakarta central court sentenced Paulus Suryanta Ginting, Ambrosius Mulait, Dano Anes Tabuni, Charles Kossay, and Arina Elopere to nine months in prison; and Issay Wenda to eight months. They were charged with article 106 and 110 of the Penal Code, which regulate treason and conspiracy to commit treason with a maximum sentence of 20 years.
As part of the measures imposed by the Indonesian government to curb the spread of COVID-19, the defendants did not attend the hearing in person, but joined via teleconference from the Salemba and Pondok Bambu prisons.
The six activists were arrested after the demonstration they had attended on Aug. 28 in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, as part of a wave of protests by Papuans against discrimination by the central government and the racism they suffer by the central Javanese.
The protests were triggered around the middle of August, when a small group of Papuan university students in the Javanese town of Surabaya were subject to racist slurs, which proved to be the spark that ignited the protests.
Dozens of Papuan students were accused of having dishonored the Indonesian flag, and when the police went to arrest them at their residence, a crowd gathered and began to utter insults such as “monkeys!”
Most Papuans are ethnic Melanesians and have darker skin than the majority of Javanese or Sumatrans.
The students were released the same day, but videos of the incident were shared through social media in Papua, prompting widespread outrage from its people, who have always eyed the Indonesian state with suspicion, considering it an instrument of Javanese supremacy.
Protesters, both in Papua and the central island of Java, waved the Morning Star flag, which has served as a symbol of Papua’s pro-independence movement, and that was the basis of the sentence handed to the six defendants today.
The judges argued that holding the Morning Star flag or painting faces with the Morning Star motive indicate the intention of separating Papua from Indonesia, and in their ruling, accused the defendants of tarnishing the image of Indonesia and disturbing national security.
But human rights defenders have argued that the defendants are innocent of the offense attributed to them, as defined in the penal code.
“If the charge is as serious as treason or an attempt at secession, the evidence presented should be weapons, or an army or ammunition. But there’s no such thing there,” said Usman Hamid, Executive Director of Amnesty International Indonesia, in reference of the law, a legacy of Dutch Colonial era, in which the Dutch term aanslag (onslaught in English, referring to a physical attack) is used.
While the Morning Star Flag is widely seen as a symbol of Papuan independence, Indonesia’s fourth President Abdurrahman Wahid declared it was a cultural symbol, and the 2001 Papua’s Special Autonomy Law mentioned local flags as symbols of Papuan identity and not as a symbol of sovereignty.
Papua has witnessed a low-intensity separatist conflict for decades, the roots of which date back to 1962, when the Netherlands agreed to cede this remote tropical region -its colony until then- to Indonesia in a United Nations-backed process on condition of holding a referendum.
The referendum was finally held in 1969, during the brutal dictatorship of General Suharto, and in which only a little more than a thousand tribal leaders were allowed to vote under intimidation.
In 2015, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the end of an internal migration program from the most populous islands such as Java and Sumatra to remote areas of the archipelago, under which outsiders have come to make up nearly half of the more than 3.5 million population of Indonesian Papua. EFE-EPA