A new report by Human Rights Watch has laid out some sobering facts about Indonesia’s political prisoners. The watchdog reckons there are about 100 mainly Papuan and Moluccan activists behind bars across the country, and most of them have suffered some kind of abuse or torture. Their crime is often nothing more than waving a banned separatist symbol, like Papuan Morning Star or Moluccan RMS flags.
“Imprisoning activists for peacefully voicing their political views is an ugly stain on Indonesia’s recent improvements in human rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“It’s out of step with Indonesians’ growing aspirations as a democratic and rights-respecting country.”
Cases of the 10 most prominent of the prisoners interviewed also uncovered other problems that the authorities need to address, Human Rights Watch said. These include denial of adequate medical services, the use of long-distance prison transfers from Ambon to Java to isolate prisoners far from their family and community, and poor prison conditions.
Human Rights Watch urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to drop all charges and order the release of all political prisoners, revoke provisions of the 2007 regulation banning peaceful display of symbols, and take additional steps to enhance the rule of law. Other concerned governments have important roles to play to monitor the situation of Indonesia’s political prisoners, especially those who have suffered torture and ill-treatment, Human Rights Watch said. The EU should publicly raise their concerns about these cases and the underlying laws during the human rights dialogue, the first between the EU and Indonesia.
Remember these political prisoners — men like Buchtar Tabuni, Filep Karma and Ruben Saiya — when you see President Yudhoyono strutting around the upcoming G20 meeting in Canada.
An Ambonese villager, Ruben Saiya’s crime was to unfurl an RMS flag while performing a traditional dance in front of Yudhoyono in 2007. So much for presidential mercy.