[JURIST] The Jayapura district court in Papua, Indonesia on Friday convicted five men of treason for declaring the province’s independence and raising an outlawed separatist flag at a peaceful pro-independence rally in October. The men include the proclaimed president of West Papua, Forkorus Yaboisembut, and four other peaceful protesters, each of whom was convicted of treason [AFP report] under the criminal code. Their October protest was violently put down [Indigenous Peoples report] after the flag was raised, with paramilitary police shooting into the crowd and beating participants with batons and bare fists. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] condemned the convictions [press release] as “politically motivated” and requested the men be immediately released:
If the Indonesian government wants to make an example out of these people, then it should free them as a symbol of its commitment to free expression. … Instead, the legacy of the Papuan Congress crackdown will be five unjust convictions, while those responsible for the violence go unpunished.
The five convicted men released a letter [text, PDF] when the trial began, rejecting the law under which they were being charged and reaffirming their right to free expression. They each received five-year prison sentences for their actions at the October protest, at which at least three people were killed and more than 90 injured. Eight police officers involved with the shooting of the protesters were let off with a warning.
The convictions come as part of the ongoing tension [BBC backgrounder] between the Indonesian government and the Papuan separatist movement, on which HRW published a report in 2007. In a July 2010 report HRW urged the Indonesian government to release secession activists [JURIST report] and adhere to international standards of free speech. “Prosecuting Political Aspiration: Indonesia’s Political Prisoners” criticized the Indonesian government for its treatment of people imprisoned for peaceful political expression related to the Papuan [Economist backgrounder] and Moluccan [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] secession movements. In an unrelated situation, a Papuan tribe initiated a lawsuit [JURIST report] recently in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] against a mining company for alleged genocide.