Three students who had been convicted of treason for participating in a free speech event at the Jayapura University of Science and Technology (USTJ) in November 2022 have been released from the Abepura Correctional Facility in Jayapura City on 7 September 2023 after serving a sentence of ten months imprisonment. Mr Yoseph Ernesto Matuan, Mr Devio Tekege, and Mr Ambrosius Fransiskus Elopere were initially arrested for raising the Morning Star flag during the event.
The event was eventually dispersed by the police, leading to their arrests and subsequent prosecution under treason charges. On 8 August 2023, judges at the Jayapura District Court found the three students guilty of treason and sentenced them to 10 months. Student activists and their legal team welcomed Mr Matuan, Mr Tekege and Mr Elopere upon release (see photo on top, source: Jubi).
The criminalisation of the students has raised concerns about freedom of expression, as well as the freedom of peaceful assembly and association in West Papua. Their lawyer, Mrs Yustina Haluk, emphasized the importance of clarifying the legal status of the Morning Star flag. The dualistic interpretations of the flag, with some viewing it as a symbol of cultural identity and others as a symbol of pro-independence sentiments, highlight the need for legal clarity to prevent peaceful expressions of opinion from being criminalised as treason.
On 10 November 2022, police officers forcefully dispersed a peaceful protest by Papuan University students at the Jayapura University of Science and Technology (USTJ) and arrested sixteen students. Students raised the Morning Star Flag inside the campus and made peaceful orations. The students called upon the Indonesian Government to allow a visit of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to West Papua and rejected a dialogue process initiated by the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM). Dozens of police officers of the Jayapura Police Crowd Control Unit (Dalmas Polresta Jayapura) entered the USTJ campus and dispersed the students using warning shots and teargas.
Papuan human rights NGOs condemned the harsh intervention of the police, calling upon the Jayapura police chief to respect and protect the freedom of expression as stipulated in the Indonesian 1945 Constitution and international human rights treaties which Indonesia has ratified. The coalition demanded the police chief instruct police officers in Jayapura to adhere to Police Regulation No. 9/ 2008 regarding implementing human rights principles in the Indonesian National Police Duties.