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Human rights agencies appalled, accused plead not guilty

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (Pacific Scoop, Jan. 31, 2012) – An Indonesian court has indicted five Papuan activists for treason for raising an outlawed Papuan flag and declaring the region independent, reports Agence France-Presse.

The men, who led a peaceful pro-independence Papuan People’s Congress celebration attended by 5,000 indigenous Papuans on October 19, face life in prison if found guilty.

"The defendants jointly tried to commit treason with the intention of allowing the country or part of the country to fall into the hands of the enemy," Judge Jack L. Oktovianus at the Jayapura district court said.

"They acted together to declare Papua an independent region, which constitutes an act of treason."

The five activists– Forkorus Yaboisembut, Edison Waromi, August Makbrowen Senay, Dominikus Sorabut, and Selpius Bobii – were charged with treason under article 106 of the Indonesian Criminal Code and have been held in police detention since October 19. All five have denied the treason charge.

A sixth Papuan, Gat Wenda, a member of the Penjaga Tanah Papua, orPepta (Papua Land Guard), which provided security at the congress, will be tried separately on charges of possessing a sharp weapon.

Crowd under fire

Local TV footage had showed the men declaring the region’s independence in the Papuan capital Jayapura and paramilitary police then shooting into the crowd and beating participants with batons and bare fists.

At least three people were killed and more than 90 injured in the chaos. Eight police officers were let off with written warnings for disciplinary infractions.

New York-based Human Rights Watch on Sunday called for the cancellation of the trial.

"It’s appalling that a modern democratic nation like Indonesia continues to lock up people for organizing a demonstration and expressing controversial views," the group’s Asia deputy director Elaine Pearson said in a statement.

Indonesia in 1969 took control of Papua, a former Dutch colony on the western half of New Guinea island, after a vote among a select group of Papuans widely seen as a sham.

Papuans, mostly indigenous Melanesians, have long accused Indonesia’s military of violating human rights in the province and complain that the bulk of earnings from its rich natural resources flow to the capital of Jakarta.

Jakarta keeps a tight grip on the region through its military, which regularly clashes with locals, and foreign-based journalists are barred from reporting in the region.

More than 170 people are currently imprisoned in Indonesia for peacefully promoting separatism in Indonesia, most of them from Papua or the eastern Maluku islands, according to Human Rights Watch.

Netty Dharma Somba of the Jakarta Post reported that the five accused activists had denied the charge that they were guilty of treason. They said that what had been doing was seeking fulfillment of their political birth right – independence.

"What we have been doing is seeking our own independence. Thus, we have cheated no one," Forkorus Yoboisembut, "president" of the West Papua "federal state" told the court.

All four accused were arrested during a gathering at Zakheus Square because law enforcers suspected they may have been the masterminds behind the recent gathering that asked for Papua’s independence.

Pacific Scoop All editorial and news content produced under the principles of Creative Commons. Permission to republish with attribution may be obtained from the Pacific Media Centre - [email protected]

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