Three Papuan students convicted of treason released

The three convicts of the Jayapura University of Science and Technology free speech treason case, Yoseph Ernesto Matuan, Devio Tekege, and Ambrosius Fransiskus Elopere, pose for a photo with their pickers after being released from Abepura Correctional Institution on Thursday (7/9/2023). - Jubi/Theo Kelen

Jayapura, Jubi – On Thursday, September 7, 2023, three students of the Jayapura University of Science and Technology (USTJ) who had been convicted in a treason case, were released from the Abepura Prison in Jayapura City. They were picked up by a group of student activists in Jayapura City.

The three students, namely Yoseph Ernesto Matuan, Devio Tekege, and Ambrosius Fransiskus Elopere, had been charged with treason due to their involvement in a free speech held at the campus on November 10, 2022. At that time, they were spotted carrying the Morning Star flag while expressing their rejection to the Papua peace dialogue plan initiated by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

Police then dispersed the event, leading to the arrest of several participants, including Matuan, Tekege, and Eloperer. Subsequently, they were accused of treason and faced trial at the Jayapura District Court.

On August 8, 2023, the Court found them guilty of treason and sentenced them to a 10-month prison term,deducted from their detention period, resulting in their release on Thursday.

The release was facilitated by the Papua Legal Aid Institute (LBH Papua), who was part of the Papua Law Enforcement and Human Rights Coalition, the legal team representing the three students during the treason trial.

Outside the Abepura Prison, several student activists wearing USTJ jackets had gathered since 9 a.m Papua time. Marwa Wayne, the field coordinator, expressed her surprise at the early release of the three students, as the initial release date had been set for September 12, 2023. Wayne conveyed their happiness for the students’ freedom and thanked the authorities for the expedited release.

Persila Heselo, the attorney for Matuan, Tekege, and Elopere, also expressed gratitude at the early release. The three were welcomed by dozens of student activists, as well as their legal team, who gathered in front of the prison to pray together.

During this gathering, Yoseph Ernesto Matuan expressed his gratitude to the court for their early release and reaffirmed their commitment to continue their advocacy on behalf of their land.

There was a dispute with the police when the pick-up team intended to march the three convicts to the Tauboria Catholic Student Dormitory, which was about 2.6 kilometers from Abepura Prison. The police cited concerns about disrupting traffic flow and offered a police vehicle. Eventually, the pick-up team agreed to hire public transportation for the students’ journey to the dormitory.

Yustina Haluk emphasized that Yoseph Ernesto Matuan, Devio Tekege, and Ambrosius Fransiskus Elopere should not have been convicted of treason. Haluk argued that the students were merely exercising their right to peaceful expression, a right guaranteed by Law No. 9/1998 on Freedom of Expression in Public. He further highlighted the limited freedom of expression in Papua.

Haluk hopes the government will take action to clarify the status of the Morning Star flag in order to prevent the wrongful criminalization of peaceful expression, as exemplified by the cases of Matuan, Tekege, and Elopere.

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