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Independence activist

A Papuan independence activist will be tried next week for treason – BenarNews

An independence activist from the Indonesian province of Papua will face trial next week for treason, his lawyer announced on Tuesday.

The day before, a protester was shot and wounded when police opened fire to disperse a rally demanding the release of activist Victor Yeimo, activists and a religious group said.

Yeimo’s lawyer, Gustav Kawer, said his client’s arraignment was scheduled for August 24 and expressed concern about what he said was his deteriorating health.

“Despite his medical condition, he is still being forced to stand trial. This is an attempt to pursue a timeline regardless of the quality of the trial,” Kawer told BenarNews.

Yeimo, the international spokesman for the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), a group calling for a referendum on independence in the region, was arrested in May for allegedly leading anti-Jakarta protests that turned into deadly riots in 2019.

Yeimo faces charges of treason, desecration of state symbols and arms smuggling, police said. He could face two years to a maximum of life in prison, if convicted.

In 2019, more than 40 people were killed in Papua during protests and riots sparked by the perceived harsh and racist treatment of Papuan students by government security personnel in Java in August.

The incident has thrown a new spotlight on long-standing allegations that Indonesian government forces have engaged in racist actions against indigenous peoples mainly in Melanesian Papua, where violence linked to a separatist insurgency has been simmering for decades and has intensified in recent months.

Last year, at least 13 Papuan activists and students were convicted for raising Morning Star flags – the symbol of the Papuan independence movement – at pro-referendum rallies in 2019 as part of nationwide protests against anti-Papuan racism. .

They were sentenced to between nine and 11 months in prison for treason.

“The team of doctors is not independent”

Yeimo’s lawyer Kawer says repeated requests from the legal team for his client to undergo a full health check-up have been turned down, despite complaining of chest pains and coughing up blood .

Yeimo is being held in a facility run by the Mobile Squad Police Unit, Kawer said. The activist is housed in a cell with minimal lighting, poor air circulation and located next to a septic tank, he added.

Kawer said he sent a letter to the prosecutor’s office asking for Yeimo to be transferred to Abepura Main Jail in Jayapura, but there was no response.

Kawer acknowledged that his client had already undergone two medical examinations since his detention – the last on June 17 – but that they had not been thorough.

“We suspect that the team of doctors is not independent. We are very concerned that the results will be taken to court, but they are not consistent with Yeimo’s actual condition,” Kawer said.

Police spokesman Ahmad Musthofa Kamal denied that Yeimo was in pain.

“He is fine. He was examined by hospital doctors, not the police, and has a lawyer with him,” Kamal told BenarNews.

The head of the Papuan branch of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), Frits Ramandey, said he would seek bail for Yeimo.

Yeimo’s arrest was not his first encounter with the law.

In 2009, he was arrested and sentenced to a year in prison for leading a rally calling for a referendum on Papua self-determination.

In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua and annexed the region, which constitutes the western half of the island of New Guinea. Papua was officially incorporated into Indonesia after a UN-sponsored ballot called the Free Choice Act in 1969.

Residents and activists said the vote was a sham because only around 1,000 people took part. However, the United Nations accepted the result, which essentially endorsed Jakarta’s rule.

The region is rich in natural resources but remains among the poorest and most underdeveloped in Indonesia.

“They beat us with rifle butts”

On Monday, a 29-year-old protester, Ferianus Asso, was shot in the stomach after police opened fire to disperse the crowd at a rally demanding Yeimo’s release in Yahukimo regency on Monday.

“Ferianus is still being treated at a hospital in Yahukimo,” Jefry Wenda, spokesman for a movement called the Papuan People’s Petition, told BenarNews.

Wenda said police detained at least 48 protesters in Yahukimo but all but four were released.

Papuan police spokesman Kamal said all the detainees had been released.

“We are not detaining any protesters at this time,” Kamal told BenarNews.

In the provincial capital Jayapura, KNPB chairman and former political prisoner Agus Kossay said he suffered a head injury after being hit by a police butt – a bracket to which the barrel of a gun is attached.

“They doused us with water and beat us with gun butts until we bled, but even if they beat us and kill us, we will still fight against racism, colonialism and capitalism,” Kossay said in a video clip sent to BenarNews.

Jayapura Police Chief Gustav R. Urbinas said the mass dispersal took place because the protest did not have an official permit and violated COVID-19 social distancing rules.

Urbinas said the crowd attacked police who were trying to disperse the protest.

“Our staff had to take firm action to prevent them from causing public disorder,” he said in a statement.

Kossay, however, said organizers notified police of the protest three days earlier.

Socratez S. Yoman, president of the Community of Baptist Churches in West Papua, condemned the use of violence by the police against the protesters.

“This kind of cruelty and violence by the security forces has led to an increase in the mistrust of the Papuan people towards Indonesia,” he said in an open letter.

Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera