Police Forced To Release West Papuan Political Prisoners

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Edison Kendi, Yan Piet Maniamboy charged with ‘rebellion’

By Alex Rayfield

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (Pacific Scoop, August 1, 2013) – In dramatic scenes outside a remote West Papuan prison, local community leaders on Monday forced the Indonesian police to release two independence activists jailed on charges of rebellion.

Earlier in the day the two activists, Edison Kendi, 37, and Yan Piet Maniamboy, 35, were sentenced to 2 years and 18 months respectively, in a Serui Island court house on trumped up charges of rebellion, an antiquated law used extensively by the Suharto regime to repress dissent in Indonesia.

Although Suharto was overthrown in May 1998, the legislation remains on the statute books, and is regularly employed by Indonesian police to repress dissent.

According to witnesses, Kendi was dragged naked into the court room while Maniamboy remained forcibly detained in his cell, unable to attend his own trial.

Hundreds of Papuans from all over Yapen and the neighboring islands and towns attended the trial. Some arrived by boats decked out in large Morning Star flags, the banned symbol of West Papuan independence.

Scores more waved Morning Star flags in the crowd while the police appeared unable or unwilling to do anything. Following the verdict, the accused’s lawyers immediately filed an appeal.

Jubilant crowd

As Kendi was returned to prison, re-joining Maniamboy, a large crowd gathered outside the jail demanding the men’s release. After intense negotiations between the men’s lawyers, police in charge of the prison and protest organizer George Ayorbaba, Kendi and Maniamboy were released to a jubilant crowd.

The men are now free pending their appeal due to be set down for a later date.

The two men were part of a large group from the West Papua National Authority, a mass-based pro-independence group allied with the Federal Republic of West Papua.

Maniamboy was reportedly appointed chief of Yawama Regency by the Federal Republic of West Papua, after that group declared the restoration of independence at the Third Papuan People’s Congress in October 2011.

Edison Kendi and Yan Piet Maniamboy have been detained by Indonesian police since August 9, 2012. The two activists were arrested for organizing a non-violent march in support of the United Nations International Day of Indigenous People.

57 Papuan political prisoners were in jail at the end of June this year, according to Papuans Behind Bars.

All are held for non-violently expressing political opinions, a right acknowledged by the Indonesian constitution. However, in the case of pro-independence activists in West Papua, Papuans right to free speech is not upheld.

International attention

The treatment of Papuan political prisoners is gaining increasing international attention and sparking some new forms of protest.

Australian Aboriginal elder, Kevin Buzzacott from the Arabunna nation in South Australia, together with Jacob Rumbiak, Foreign Affairs Minister for the Federal Republic of West Papua, and a large group of West Papuans and Australian supporters are currently travelling by land and sea to West Papua where they plan to meet pro-independence activists.

Activists from the West Papua National Authority are planning a welcoming ceremony. Both Buzzacott and Rumbiak say the freedom flotilla is part of a plan to revitalize ancient cultural ties between Australia and West Papua.

"We have a responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters from across the water" said Buzzacott.

The Indonesian government has not yet made a public statement about whether the freedom flotilla will be allowed to enter West Papua.

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 - pmc@aut.ac.nz

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