Politically motivated ... the jailing of West Papuan activists.
Politically motivated ... the jailing of West Papuan activists. Photo: Andrew Taylor
JAKARTA: Five activists fighting for an independent West Papua have been jailed for three years after being found guilty of treason, but their lawyers immediately vowed to appeal.
Defendants included Forkorus Yaboisembut, the man declared ''president of the Federal Republic of West Papua'' by representatives of the district's 200-plus tribes in October, and his ''prime minister'', Edison Waromi.
The three-year sentence handed down yesterday by Jayapura District Court Judge Jack Johanis Oktavianus was lighter than the maximum of life imprisonment for the charge of ''makar'' (translated as treason or subversion), and also lighter than the five years requested by the chief prosecutor, Julius Teuf.
The result prompted speculation that the court had been influenced by international scrutiny of the case and by political ambivalence in Jakarta about the repressive conduct of its military leaders in the resource-rich territory.
Muridan Widjojo, who wrote the book Papua Road Map, said there was ''no decisive position from Jakarta'' on this case, or on West Papua in general.
The five defendants were caught up in a crackdown after a National Congress of West Papuan tribes last October declared independence.
The judge said in his sentencing remarks that the five had intended to separate part of the state of Indonesia and put it in the hands of the enemy.
Jailed along with Forkorus and Waromi were Agustinus Sanany Kraar, Selpius Bobii, and Dominikus Sorbet.
Their lawyer, Gustav Kawer, told the Herald yesterday that the panel of judges had ignored crucial evidence that the congress was held in the open and with the knowledge of security forces.
The defendants had ''even asked the Home Affairs Minister to be the keynote speaker'', Mr Kawer said.
Mr Widjojo said yesterday's conviction and sentence showed that Indonesia's legal system had still not adjusted to the introduction of democracy. ''What Forkorus and his friends did cannot be categorised as treason. There is no armed movement, there is no alternative government. What they did was just a symbolic thing,'' he said.
The deputy Asian director of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, said the charges were politically motivated and urged the government to order the men's release to show its commitment to free expression.
The executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre in Melbourne, Philip Lynch, said the prosecution was ''an affront to democracy and the rule of law''.
Australia National University academic Budi Hernawan, who has lived and worked in West Papua, said he believed the relatively light sentence was the result of international pressure and scrutiny of the case.
But a spokesman for the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, told the Jakarta Globe that freedom of speech did not apply to separatist activities, citing European Union member states who classify separatism as a form of terrorism.
''Any expression of separatism in the EU is thus considered an act of terrorism,'' he said.