Saturday, December 11, 2010

Indonesia: Rights abuses against Papuan political prisoners

Source: Human Rights Watch (HRW)

The Indonesian authorities should immediately allow two Papuan political prisoners and three others to fairly contest their transfer from prison to a police headquarters and permit them access to their lawyers, Human Rights Watch said today. Filep Karma, 51, and Buchtar Tabuni, 31, have been held at the Jayapura police station in West Papua since being brought there a day after a riot at Abepura prison (photo) on December 3, 2010.

On international Human Rights Day, Human Rights Watch also reiterated its call for the Indonesian government to free immediately the more than 130 Papuan and Moluccan activists imprisoned for peacefully voicing political views, and to reform laws and policies to protect freedom of expression.

"Prisoners have rights too, and ignoring those rights is no way to celebrate Human Rights Day," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The authorities should explain why Filep Karma and Buchtar Tabuni have been thrown in a police lock-up and denied access to lawyers."

The Jayapura police chief, Commissionaire Imam Setiawan, told the media that the police had "secured" Karma and Tabuni at the Jayapura police station for provoking a riot that occurred at Abepura prison following an attempted prison break on December 3 in which a prisoner was shot and killed. Karma and Tabuni informed Federika Korain of the United Papuan People's Democracy Forum (FORDEM) that they were transferred to the police station without being told that they had committed an offense.

Under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, "[N]o prisoner shall be punished unless he has been informed of the offense alleged against him and given a proper opportunity of presenting his defense."

Since being taken to the police station, Karma and Tabuni have requested access to their legal counsel but have been refused. On December 8, Karma's lawyer, Harry Masturbongs, came to the station but was not allowed to meet with his client. The police have also refused to let Karma's family visit him.

According to the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, an "imprisoned person shall be entitled to communicate and consult with his legal counsel." The rights of an "imprisoned person to be visited by and to consult and communicate, without delay or censorship and in full confidentiality, with his legal counsel may not be suspended or restricted save in exceptional circumstances, to be specified by law or lawful regulations, when it is considered indispensable by a judicial or other authority in order to maintain security and good order."

On December 9, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono opened the third Bali Democracy Forum, which is aimed at promoting regional international cooperation to foster democracy and political development among countries in Asia. President Yudhoyono said in his opening speech, "There are a lot of variants of democracy but there must be universal values and spirits within the democracy itself." Human Rights Watch called on the Indonesian government to respect the basic right to free expression, as laid out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2006.

"Holding political prisoners is embarrassing and totally out-of-step with the image of a modern democratic state that Indonesia is trying to project," Pearson said. "President Yudhoyono should show his commitment to basic rights by freeing people imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political views, including Filep Karma and Buchtar Tabuni."


Filep Karma, age 51, has been in Abepura prison for six years. In May 2005, the Abepura district court found him guilty of treason for organizing a Papuan independence rally on December 1, 2004, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Buchtar Tabuni, age 31, is a leader of the West Papua National Committee, a Papuan independence organization that has grown more radical since his imprisonment. He was arrested in Jayapura on December 3, 2008, for organizing protests against the shooting of his relative, Opinus Tabuni. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment under article 160 of the Criminal Code for "inciting hatred" against the Indonesian government.

Human Rights Watch has documented beatings in Abepura prison in 2008 and 2009 that led to investigations into prison conditions by the National Human Rights Commission and the removal of the previous prison warden.

Human Rights Watch's June 2010 report, Prosecuting Political Aspiration, describes the mistreatment of individuals serving prison sentences for peaceful acts of free expression in Papua and the Moluccas Islands, including Filep Karma and Buchtar Tabuni.

To read the June 2009 Human Rights Watch news release "Indonesia: Stop Prison Brutality in Papua," please visit:

To read the May 2010 commentary by Elaine Pearson "The Thinker: Papua Behind Bars," please visit:

To read the June 2010 Human Rights Watch report "Prosecuting Political Aspiration: Indonesia's Political Prisoners," please visit: