Political prisoners held at Papua’s Abepura Prison rejected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s offer to grant them clemency as part of the Home Affairs Ministry’s proposed “special autonomy plus” program for the restive region.
More than 50 political prisoners will be granted their freedom during an August visit by the president commemorating the new autonomy program. Local leaders floated the proposal during discussions with the president on the implementation of the “special autonomy plus” program — an enhanced version of Papua’s existing autonomy agreement that would allow the local government to enter discussions with the armed Free Papua Organization (OPM).
The prisoners, many who were arrested during protests marking the anniversary of the provinces’ contested inclusion as part of Indonesia, would be free to participate in discussions on the future of the resource-rich region, said Yunus Wonda, a deputy speaker of the provincial legislature.
But 26 prisoners currently held at the Abepura Prison refused the president’s offer, stating in a letter delivered to Yudhoyono that they plan to remain incarcerated until Papua is granted its freedom.
“The do not want [clemency] because they seek Papua’s freedom, not individual freedom,” Markus Haluk, a Papua human rights activist, told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday. “The political prisoners will remain as long as the Indonesia government refuses to free Papua.”
Papua was annexed by Indonesia in a 1963 vote widely seen as a sham by international monitors. Armed separatists forces, like the OPM, have been engaged in a protracted battle for independence with the Indonesian government since the former Dutch territory joined the republic.
The battle has pulled non-violent activists pushing for a second self-determination vote into the fray. Indonesian security forces have increasingly targeted groups like the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) in recent months, jailing members for treason and shooting others during a violent crackdown that garnered criticism from international human rights groups.
Papuans caught raising the "Morning Star" flag can be jailed for up to 20 years on treason charges. There are estimated to be up to 50 Papuan political prisoners currently held nationwide. The website papuansbehindbars.org lists 40 people and the offenses for which they were convicted, which include raising the Morning Star flag, treason and taking part in rallies such as “indigenous people’s day celebrations” and “anti-Freeport demonstrations.”
The "special autonomy plus" program is a marked departure from the government's previous efforts to crush the armed insurgency with a heavy military presence. Local leaders called the plan an example of “development with compassion” and see the release of the political prisoners as an important step in quelling tensions in the region. But it remains to be seen if the prisoners, many of them activists who are critical of the central government's actions in Papua, will accept the terms.
“The release of the political prisoners was an important points of the special autonomy plus that was proposed to the head of state,” Yunus said. “The president had no objection and is ready to offer clemency. It’s hoped that the political prisoners will join the Papuan people in the development [process] to create prosperity.”
Papua governor Lukas Enembe previously told the Jakarta Globe that his administration planned to ask the OPM to work with the local government and help draft new policies to develop the region and alleviate Papua's endemic poverty.
“There’s no denying that a lot of our brethren are on the other [separatist] side, but they’re people too, and as long as we can communicate with one another, we should keep doing so,” the governor said.
“With the right approach, I believe they will be willing to listen."