The government must release 100 political prisoners in Papua and Maluku if it is to make any headway in its upcoming human-rights dialogue with the European Union, says a leading rights group.
The call came with the release of the 43-page report “Prosecuting Political Aspiration: Indonesia’s Political Prisoners” by New York-based Human Rights Watch, which draws from more than 50 interviews with prisoners between December 2008 and last month.
HRW says the Papuan and Maluku activists were arrested for peacefully expressing their political views by raising the banned Morning Star flag, a symbol of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM), and the South Maluku Republic (RMS) flag.
“Imprisoning activists for peacefully voicing their political views is an ugly stain on Indonesia’s recent improvements in human rights,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.
“It’s out of step with Indonesians’ growing aspirations as a democratic and rights-respecting country.”
The report also details the treatment of activists during their time in detention, especially by members of the Densus 88 counterterrorism squad in Ambon, Maluku, as well as police and prison guards in Papua, and the failure of the government to hold those responsible to account.
Reimond Tuapattinaya, a Maluku activist arrested in June 2007, described his alleged beatings by members of Densus 88.
“If they held an iron bar, we got the iron bar. If they held a wooden bat, we got the wooden bat,” he was quoted as saying in the report.
“They used everything. The torture was conducted inside Tantui [prison] and the [Maluku Police] headquarters. I was tortured for 14 days in Tantui, day and night. They picked me up in the morning, and returned me, bleeding, to my cell in the evening.”
Next Tuesday, the EU will hold its first human-rights dialogue with Indonesia in Jakarta.
HRW said the EU should raise its concerns about these cases and push for the annulment of a 2007 government regulation banning the peaceful display of separatist symbols, which is considered treason.
“Peacefully raising a flag is not something anyone should be arrested for, and torture is unconscionable,” Robertson said.
“The European Union should make clear that the world is appalled by these abuses and press Indonesia to free these prisoners and amend the penal code to prevent future human-rights violations.”
Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar last month pledged the release of several political prisoners in Papua after a visit to one of the prisons in the province.
However, he said those charged with complicity in armed conflicts or raising the Morning Star flag would be shown no clemency.
Allegations of rights abuses in the province’s main prison, Abepura Penitentiary, have gone largely ignored by the ministry.
Usman Hamid, chairman of the National Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said Indonesia breached the terms of its 2006 ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights each time it charged political activists with the Criminal Code articles on treason.
“These are the same articles that were used to silence critics of the Dutch colonial administration and to jail political activists under the Suharto regime,” Usman said.
The Criminal Code, adopted by the Indonesian government in 1946, is based on Dutch colonial law established in 1918.
“The government should be consistent in implementing the ICCPR and stop the persecution of those involved in peaceful protests,” Usman said.
The covenant guarantees people’s right to determine their political ideology, as well as the freedom of movement and speech.