Three Papuan students sentenced to ten months for holding peaceful free speech event in Jayapura

On 8 August 2023, judges of the Jayapura District Court found the three students, Mr Yoseph Ernesto Matuan, Mr Devio Tekege, and Mr Ambrosius Fransiskus Elopere, guilty of treason (see photo on top, source: Jubi) as regulated under Article 106 of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP). They were sentenced to 10 months imprisonment each. The judgment differed from the prosecutor’s demand of an 18-month prison term. The panel of judges argued that the trial had proven that the students were engaging in separatist activities, disrupting public security, and threatening the country’s sovereignty. The verdict underscores the ongoing restrictions on the freedom of expression in West Papua and highlights the inconsistent implementation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Indonesia.

The Coalition of Law Enforcement and Human Rights for Papua strongly contested the charges against the three students. They argue that the students’ actions, including the peaceful demonstration and flag-raising, fell within the realm of freedom of expression protected under the Indonesian constitution and international human rights law. The Coalition referenced Article 28 of the Indonesian Constitution and Law Number 9 of 1998 on Freedom of Expression in Public to support their stance. Furthermore, they cited decisions by the Constitutional Court Judges that warned against the misuse of treason charges for suppressing free speech. The Coalition urged the court to acknowledge that the students had not been convincingly proven guilty of treason, calling for their acquittal, rehabilitation of their reputation, and transferring trial costs to the State.

The three students were arrested and processed for participating in a free speech event held on the Jayapura University of Science and Technology (USTJ) campus in November 2022. The students raised the Morning Star flag while rejecting the proposed peace dialogue between the Papuan independence movement under the lead of the National Commission on Human Rights. Joint security forces cracked down on the event using warning shots and tear gas. Sixteen students were arrested.

The Morning Star Flag is a symbol of cultural identity for many Papuans. Indonesian authorities prosecute the raising of the flag and the use of emblems because the Morning Star is also the symbol of the Papua independence movement.

Case information:

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