July 23, 2009
Jayapura. The trial of 15 people accused of treason just days before April’s legislative elections began on Thursday in Papua’s Nabire District Court.
The group was arrested on April 6 during preparations for a rally in support of an organization called the International Lawyers for West Papua in the United States. Four of the five witnesses presented on Thursday were Nabire Police officers.
The defendants’ lawyers, Gustaf Kawer and Ari Maturbongs, said after Thursday’s hearing that the prosecutor’s office would need to present better evidence in order to make a case that treason had been committed.
Kawer said Thursday’s testimony from the witnesses had painted a picture of actions “far from treason or rebellion.”
On April 3, a peaceful rally was held by the West Papua National Committee. Five of the 15 on trial attended. On April 5, the 15 men now on trial allegedly met with others at a cabin in Nabire to plan another peaceful rally, which was to be held the next day. Participants at the gathering reportedly prepared banners for the demonstration.
The rally was aimed at voicing opposition to Papua’s status as a special autonomous region, and also at denouncing the legislative elections to be held on April 9.
The rally was also meant to mark the launch of the so-called International Parliament for West Papua (IPWP).
On the day of the planned rally, Nabire Police raided the cabin, firing their guns and arresting suspects as the group prepared for the demonstration.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has since renewed its call for the Indonesian government to revoke laws that criminalize free expression.
“Papua officials should stop using the criminal law for political purposes,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Now is the time for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to live up to his words and show Papuans he is serious about promoting tolerance of different political views.”
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