by Alex Rayfield
July 31, 2013 (Edited)
(Yapen) In dramatic scenes outside a remote West Papuan prison in Serui, Yapen island, 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 Yapen 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 West Papua Media’s local stringer Kendi was abused and dragged naked into the court room by police and three members of Kopassus, Indonesia’s notorious Special Forces. Kendi told West Papua Media that the Kopassus commander went by the name of Mr. Baskoro. “He did not treat me well or respect my human rights” Kendi told West Papua Media via an intermediary.
Scenes from Kendi’s and Maniamboy’s trial, and demonstrations that forced their release in Yapen on Monday (Photos: West Papua Media)
Over a thousand people from Serui, other villages on Yapen, Biak Island and other places were present at 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 or wore clothes with the flag on it, while the police appeared unable or unwilling to do anything.
Both Kendi and Maniamboy said they were denied legal representation despite requesting it. As the two men were taken back to prison, a large crowd gathered outside the jail and demanded the men’s release. After intense negotiations between the men’s lawyers, police in charge of the prison, and protest organiser George Ayorbaba, Kendi and Maniamboy were released to a jubilant crowd pending their appeal. Ayorbaba later told West Papua Media that “Papuans need freedom, just like other people struggling for their right to self-determination.”
Edison Kendi and Yan Piet Maniamboy were originally detained by Indonesian police on 9 August 2012. The two activists were arrested for organising a nonviolent march in support of the United Nations International Day of Indigenous People. Kendi and Maniamboy were part of a large protest group from the West Papua National Authority, a mass-based pro-independence group allied with the Federal Republic of West Papua.
Their case will be heard in absentia in the Jayapura court on Friday 2 August. Depending on the decision of the court on Friday the two men will either be free or a warrant will be issued for their arrest.
Maniamboy was reportedly appointed chief of Yawama Regency and Kendi Governor 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.
According to Papuans Behind Bars, who profile Kendi and Maniamboy on their website, at the end of June 2013, 57 Papuan political prisoners were in jail for nonviolently expressing their political opinions.
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 revitalise 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.