June 17, 2020
Today, the Balikpapan District Court in East Kalimantan, Indonesia shall decide on the fate of 7 West Papuan political prisoners. Alexander Gobay, Henky Hilapok, Stefanus Itlay, Ferry Kombo, Agus Kossay, Buchtar Tabuni, and Irwanus Uropmabin are just 7 among dozens of West Papuan activists arrested within the second half of 2019 during a massive crackdown on protesters who called out the racism in Indonesia against Indigenous West Papuans.
The 7 tapol (tahanan politik / political prisoners) were arrested in Jayapura in September 2019 and were eventually transferred to East Kalimantan without their legal team’s knowledge. The Balikpapan 7 are currently facing sentences of 5-17 years for charges of makar (treason). Alexander, Henky, Ferry, and Irwanus are student leaders and activists in prominent universities in Papua while Agus, Stefanus, and Buchtar are respected leaders of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) and West Papua National Committee (KNPB) - people’s organizations that consistently assert West Papua’s right to self-determination. The illegal arrest of the Balikpapan 7 is already condemnable as it is; their trial was also full of irregularities and questionable procedures. The lawyers have reported interrupted sessions due to unstable internet connection during some of the online trials. The witnesses presented by the defense have also been excluded while those from the public prosecutor have all been included.
In the last few days, activists have been back on the streets since the imposition of the lockdown in various parts of Indonesia and West Papua. Videos and photos of powerful speeches from the actions have circulated online and amplified the call for the immediate release of Papuan political prisoners and the condemnation of the racist Indonesian law. Yesterday, a day before the verdict, there were reports of increased police and military presence in the streets of Jayapura despite the continuing increase of COVID-19 cases in the region.
Outside Indonesia, strong solidarity from support groups, human rights organizations, and advocates from different parts of the world also poured in. An urgent appeal launched by the International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation and Diva for Equality gathered 94 organizational endorsements and over 2,200 individual signatories from 88 countries across the Pacific, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas.
A copy of the petition has been sent to the Panel of Judges handling the Balikpapan 7’s case through e-mail and WhatsApp online messaging application. Petitioners from outside Indonesia also sent copies to their local parliament members and to the Indonesian Embassies in their respective countries such as in Australia, Fiji, Philippines, and the US.
Read the urgent appeal here.
The Indonesian Government will go into lengths to vilify and criminalize critics and dissenters without addressing the root cause of the Papuan people’s unrest. Online, the government had mobilized trolls to heckle legitimate discourse on West Papua while on the ground, it had trained paramilitary forces to conduct the attacks against Papuans.
The people’s legitimate demands for control over their land and resources, for just peace, and for self-determination are tagged as “separatist agenda” as if these are not the most basic of human rights.
We are outraged by the inhumanity of the Indonesian Government and stand in solidarity with West Papuan political prisoners who are bravely keeping the fight on behalf of their people. On the other hand, we also salute the brave people of Indonesia, especially the youth, who have rallied behind and side-by-side West Papuans despite the risks of also becoming “criminals” in the eye of the state.
We join them in their demand to end the racism by addressing the reasons for dissent.
To assert the right to self-determination is not criminal. Free the Balikpapan 7 now! Free all West Papuan political prisoners!
Deewa Dela Cruz
+63 927 901 9830 (WhatsApp only)
The Merdeka West Papua Support Network is a solidarity platform co-established by the International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) and the International League of Peoples Struggles (ILPS), along with other Philippine and Papua-based people’s organizations. It aims to expose and spread information on the realities in West Papua, connect with existing West Papua support groups, and establish where there are none.
The Secretariat is currently hosted by the IPMSDL in Quezon City, Philippines.