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Issue # 1404      25 March 2009

West Papuan community commemorates anniversary of imprisoned students

Melbourne’s West Papuan community gathered at Flinders Street Station this month to commemorate a group of imprisoned students on the anniversary of their arrest on charges of subversion. Despite a sudden downpour that flooded Melbourne’s CBD around 500 flyers were handed out to passers-by and many stopped to find out more about the plight of political prisoners in West Papua.

On the March 3-13, 2008, Indigenous West Papuans held peaceful demonstrations asking for their human rights to be respected and protected. These were organised by students and other young people concerned about their own, and their families’, futures in a country occupied and governed by outside forces – Indonesia – and ruled violently by that country’s military and security forces.

Since their arrest, the group has been held without charge, tortured, denied adequate medical treatment and subjected to prejudicial treatment and conditions because of their status as “political criminals”.

This was followed earlier this year by their conviction for subversion. They were sentenced to prison terms of three years or more for their crime of gathering peacefully, speaking publically and raising the West Papuan flag, the Morning Star.

Amnesty International, Tapol and other human rights groups have raised this case with the Indonesian and other governments, including Australia, but none have responded to the substantive human rights abuses above.

The requests of the imprisoned demonstrators include:

  • Demilitarisation of West Papua and support for the “rule of law” rather than “rule by force” to stop uncontrolled violence and intimidation by the occupiers;
  • Protection of the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly to allow the Indigenous population and their supporters to have a voice in public affairs;
  • Access to West Papua for international human rights monitors and journalists to improve transparency and accountability;
  • Release of all political prisoners imprisoned in both West Papua and those shipped to jails in Indonesia.

Campaign spokesperson Richard Rumbiak said that this was not just a case of 11 students being treated unfairly, but that these prisoners are just 11 out of thousands who have been persecuted, imprisoned, disappeared or murdered for raising their voices in their own country over more than four decades.

“The issues of free speech and political persecution impact on all West Papuans. Those at home are prisoners in their own land and those of us who have escaped as refugees to other countries are cut off from our families and friends. The issue of human rights in West Papua needs to be taken seriously by international governments and the United Nations.”

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