Judges at the Jayapura District Court sentenced Papuan activist and human rights defender Victor Yeimo to eight months imprisonment on 5 May 2023. The sentence is lower than the three years demanded by the public prosecutor on 27 April 2023. The trial hearing was attended by representatives of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua Papuan (ULMWP) and Papuan church leaders, who stand in solidarity with Mr Yeimo (see photo on top, source: WPCC). Victor Yeimo participated in protests against racial discrimination against indigenous Papuans in Indonesia on 19 and 29 August 2019. One of the protests was accompanied by acts of vandalism.
The panel of judges, consisting of Mathius SH MH, Andi Asmuruf SH, and Linn Carol Hamadi, SH, found Mr Yeimo guilty of violating Article 155 (1) of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) regarding the act of broadcasting, showing or pasting writings or paintings in public that contain statements of hostile feelings, hatred, or contempt for the Indonesian government. The article was not mentioned in the indictment, listing Article 106 KUHP on treason, Article 110 KUHP on conspiracy against the state, and Article 160 KUHP on incitement. Furthermore, human rights lawyer, Mrs Anum Siregar, stated in response to the verdict that Article 155 has been declared by the Constitutional Court to no longer have binding legal force. Human rights activists say that Victor Yeimo should have been acquitted because the trial did not offer proof that Mr Yeimo violated the articles listed in the indictment.
Victor Yeimo submitted a defence pled in a hearing at the Jayapura Class 1A District Court on 4 May 2023. In his pledge, Yeimo stated that the criminal process against him served a political purpose and failed to prove his involvement in any crime, let alone treason. He emphasized that the anti-racism demonstration on 19 August 2019 was spontaneous in response to racial slurs against Papuan students in Surabaya.
He also mentioned that the witnesses presented by the prosecutor had proven that he did not plan or coordinate the demonstrations. Mr Yeimo rejected all charges and demands linking him to his organisational background and other activities that have no direct relationship with the criminal charges against him. He underlined that he had participated in the protest to stand up against racial discrimination as a structural problem indigenous Papuans face in Indonesia.
Activists have been closely following the trial and repeatedly launched peaceful actions in support of Victor Yeimo in front of the district court in the city of Jayapura (PN Jayapura). Police officers arbitrarily arrested 54 members of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) and supporters in the city of Jayapura and the neighbouring town of Sentani, Jayapura District, between 8 and 11 April 2023. The police personnel used rubber batons to forcefully disperse a peaceful assembly in front of the PN Jayapura on 11 April 2023. Nine protesters were reportedly injured.
Human rights observers say the trial against Victor Yeimo is politically motivated in an attempt to criminalise him for his political engagement. Mr Yeimo is also the international KNPB spokesperson, a civil resistance movement organisation demanding a self-determination referendum through peaceful action. For many years, KNPB activists have been criminalised and subjected to intimidation, arbitrary arrest, torture, and even extrajudicial killings.
The trial against Mr Yeimo was initially launched at the Jayapura District Court in August 2021 but had to be interrupted because his health significantly deteriorated during detention. After almost six months of medical treatment at the public hospital, the judges continued the trial. Mr Yeimo’s lawyers accuse the judges of ignoring their client’s right to health. The judges gave the order to detain Victor Yeimo at the Abepura detention facility, despite a medical letter stating that he needed further treatment for recovery at the hospital.
Mr Yeimo has been charged with treason as regulated in Article 106 of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP), criminal conspiracy against the state (Article 110 KUHP), and Incitement (Article 160 KUHP). Treason can carry a sentence of up to 20 years imprisonment.