The murky fate of treason prisoners in Papua (The End)

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Melvin Yobe and his friends took a group photo before undergoing a treason trial at the Jayapura District Court. - Doc. Melvin Yobe

Jayapura, Jubi – The seven treason convicts who were found guilty of raising the Morning Star flag were released on September 27, 2022, after completing their prison term of ten months. Until today, Papua activist and treason convict Melvin Yobe still do not know the result of his medical check-up at Dian Harapan Hospital on February 16, 2022. Maksimus Simon Petrus You also do not know what punishment was given to the prison guard who had beaten him.

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Melvin Yobe and his friends when they were released from the Abepura Penitentiary. – Jubi/Theo Kelen

Even more bitter, however, is the fate of Zode Hilapok. He was unable to stand trial as his health continued to deteriorate due to tuberculosis. Zode Hilapok finally passed away while undergoing treatment at Yowari Regional General Hospital in Jayapura Regency on October 22, 2022.

Since detaining Zode Hilapok on December 2, 2021, law enforcement officials at all levels have failed to provide adequate health services for his recovery and his case has never been tried.

Violating Human Rights

Lecturer of the Faculty of Law at Cenderawasih University Melkias Hetharia said the treason charges against Papuan activists violated human rights, namely the right to freedom of speech and expression. He said the treason article imposed on Melvin Yobe and his seven friends was made by the Dutch colonial government against coups and revolutions and was based on the experience of the Russian revolution.

Hetharia said that the enforcement of the Dutch East Indies’ Criminal Code did not consider the social, cultural and philosophical aspects of the Indonesian nation.

“The formation of treason articles in the Criminal Code did not consider aspects of human rights, therefore it is oppressive and injures a sense of justice,” Hetharia told Jubi on October 31, 2022.

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He said that the term treason regulated in articles 104, 106, 107, 108 and 110 of the Criminal Code has been interpreted very broadly and is not in line with the meaning of aanslag as intended in Dutch, which means attack. An attack in that sense is using full force to seize power.

“If the term treason in the articles is interpreted not as aanslag or attack, then the articles on treason are indeed contrary to human rights guaranteed and protected in the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia,” he said.

In fact, Melvin Yobe, Zode Hilapok, and their six friends are not the only Papuan activists who peacefully protested but were charged with treason. From 2013 to 2022, at least 44 Papuan activists have been charged with treason. Among them, from Jayapura District Court data from 2013 to 2022 there were 31 people, while in Balikpapan District Court in 2020 seven people and in the Central Jakarta Court in 2019 six people.

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Infographics of Papuan activists who were charged with treason at the Jayapura District Court, Central Jakarta District Court, and Balikpapan District Court during 2013-2022. – Jubi/Leon

Emanuel Gobay, director of the Papua Legal Aid Institute (LBH Papua), who is also the legal counsel for Melvin Yobe and his friends, believes that the treason charges against Papuan activists are part of a systematic and structural criminalization.

“The majority of those accused of treason are human rights activists and political activists,” Gobay told Jubi on October 11, 2022.

Gobay said the Morning Star flag is a cultural symbol of the Papuan people. According to Gobay, these cultural symbols are guaranteed in Papua Special Autonomy Law No, 21/2001.

Gobay said that the raising of the Morning Star by Melvin Yobe and other Papuan activists was part of the demand for the government to resolve Papua’s political problems. “They are asking the State to immediately implement the Special Autonomy Law,” said Gobay.

On that basis, Gobay considered the use of the treason article against Papuan activists as a form of criminalization. He also emphasized that the raising of the Morning Star flag did not automatically make Papua independent from Indonesia, therefore the element of treason was not fulfilled.

Apart from the controversy on the use of treason articles for Papuan activists, the discriminative treatment received by prisoners of treason cases is also considered inappropriate by Gobay. Gobay, who often provides legal assistance to Papuan activists suspected or charged with treason, said that his clients were often treated badly.

Gobay said Zode Hilapok’s health condition was the worst of all. During his detention in Abepura Prison, Hilapok’s health condition deteriorated and he lost weight rapidly.

Gobay said Abepura Prison was not suitable for detainees with a history of tuberculosis, such as Melvin Yobe and Zode Hilapok.

“After we surveyed and compared the condition of the prison with the guidelines on handling tuberculosis patients, the prison is not suitable for accommodating prisoners with tuberculosis,” he said.

Minister of Health Regulation No. 67/2016 on Tuberculosis Patient Treatment Guideline states that the treatment center for tuberculosis patients must be open and have good air circulation and sunlight.

Gobay said the regulation also stipulated that local health offices and hospitals provide special units to treat tuberculosis patients. “We hope that judges, prosecutors, and hospitals can implement the regulation,” he said. (*)

This report is supported by Transparency International Indonesia (TII), The European Union and the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) in the Anticorruption Residency program “Reporting Legal Journalism”.

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