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Int’l groups demand release of West Papuan political prisoners, address racist Indonesian laws

Two global movements of Indigenous Peoples (IP) supporting West Papuan political prisoners in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan dubbed as "Balikpapan 7" trooped the embassy of Indonesia in Makati City, Philippines on June 16, 2020, a day before the court decides on the prisoner's case, to submit a petition calling for their urgent release and address the racism in Indonesia's law enforcement. 

The International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) and the International League of People’s Struggle Commission 10 - Concern on Indigenous Peoples, national minorities and oppressed nations and nationalities (ILPS Commission 10), both based in the Philippines, launched the petition early this month to gather international support to urge the Indonesian Government for urgent action on the issue. Around 94 organizations and more than 2,200 individuals from different countries endorsed the petition, some also conducting online and on-ground actions in their own countries amid the pandemic.

"We express our solidarity to the Balikpapan 7 who have been unjustly jailed for their anti-racist and pro-self-determination protests. Before the verdict will be given tomorrow, we wish that the voice of the global community would put immediate pressure on the Indonesian Government to fulfill its mandate in protecting people's freedom and upholding human rights,” said Beverly Longid, global coordinator of IPMSDL.

The seven activists include Buchtar Tabuni, an executive of pro-Papuan independence group United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), Agus Kossay and Stevanus Itlay of the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB), Jayapura University of Science and Technology (USTJ) student union head Alexander Gobai, Cenderawasih University student union head Ferry Gombo and USTJ students Irwanus Uropmabin and Hengki Hilapok.
All have been charged with harsh prison sentences of five to seventeen years prison time for treason due to their involvement in the big protest condemning West Papuan racism last August 2019. The Indonesian Government has transferred the seven activists thousands of kilometers away from their sources of support in West Papua. Their lawyer has also cried foul from denying them of proper defense and presentation of witnesses due to poor and interrupted internet connection. On the other hand, the organizers of racist violence in August were sentenced to less than a year and are now free.
Longid said the Balikpapan 7 are elevating their concern at the international level to demand accountability from the Indonesian government for continuously using treason laws that strongly suppress dissents, curtails people’s freedom of expression and freedom of association which recognized in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) where Indonesia is a signatory. Many human rights defenders, Papuan and other minorities have been targeted by such laws suggesting that the Indonesian legal system is an enabler of racial abuse.

“It’s a shame that the Indonesian Government remains deaf to the growing international appeal for humanitarian attention to persons detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views. Moreover, with the present pandemic, the political prisoners’ lives are endangered given the unhealthy status of jails,” said Longid.

“Anti-racism protests in the US and everywhere else is erupting. And by continuing arresting West Papuan activists without the prompt, thorough, and independent investigation on the human rights violations in relation to the anti-racism protests in 2019, along with all the unresolved rights violations to West Papuans, the Indonesian Government will be deemed complicit to racist crimes,” she added.

Although Indonesia has agreed in principle to allow the United Nations office of the human rights commissioner into West Papua to investigate the continuing violence in the region, no UN investigator, foreign media, or human rights organizations has been allowed to enter until now.

“Criminalization of activists is a vicious global trend. In the Philippines, KAPATID - Families and Friends of Political Prisoners rally today in front of the Supreme Court to plea for the release of elderly, sick and pregnant political prisoners. In Central Kalimantan, two Penyang land defenders were sentenced today with imprisonment for asserting their right to land against palm oil plantations according to environmental group WALHI,” Longid shared.

June 16 is also marked as the Global Day of Action for the Release of Balikpapan 7 where simultaneous protests in Australia, South Africa, The Netherlands, Fiji, Poland, Scotland, UK, and several cities in Indonesia took place.

“The issue is more than a case of prison sentences, but of a deeply seeded racism embedded in laws, history, and government policies. We stand with Balikpapan 7. Likewise, we demand justice for all IP and rights defenders suffering in jails for standing up for their rights,” Longid ended. 

The call for Balikpapan 7’s urgent release is part of the global campaign of IPMSDL and ILPS Commission 10 to protect all Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defenders.

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