Papua without any political prisoners

By Neles Tebay, The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

Since its integration into Indonesia on May 1, 1963, Papua has been a land of conflict. There has been a conflict between the government and indigenous Papuans, more particularly with those Papuans who have been fighting for independence from Indonesia. Many Papuans have become political prisoners. Nevertheless, President Joko ��Jokowi�� Widodo has started to free Papuan political prisoners. During his presidential visit to Papua, Jokowi released five political prisoners on May 9 in Jayapura, the capital. They were Apotnalogolik Lokobal (sentenced to 20 years), Klimanus Wenda (sentenced to 20 years), Linus Hiluka (sentenced to 20 years), Numbangga Telenggen (sentenced to life) and Jefrai Murib (sentenced to life). Their release, according to Jokowi, was intended to promote conflict resolution and help Papua become a land of peace. The clemency was perceived as an expression of his personal and moral commitment, as well as his political will, which brings hope for lasting peace. The release of prisoners indeed constitutes an initial step toward turning Papua into a land without political prisoners. We now have new hope that one day all Papuan political prisoners will be set free at last. According to Papua Behind Bars, an NGO working for Papuan political prisoners, 28 Papuan political prisoners have not yet been released. As Jokowi’s government is reportedly working to release all of them, the release of all political prisoners is just a matter of time.

Eventually, there will be no more political prisoners in the western half of New Guinea. A Papua without political prisoners could be created not only by releasing all political prisoners, but first and foremost by addressing the root causes that cause Papuans to easily become political prisoners. According to Papuans, this is because the political issue has not yet been addressed. The unsettled political issue is illustrated in a variety of situations: (1) the waving of the Morning Star flag, which is the flag of the Free Papua Movement (OPM). (2) The call for independence. (3) The stigmatizing assumption that all Papuans are separatists. (4) The call for a referendum. (5) Demonstrations supporting West Papua through the U.N. Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) to become a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). (6) The Papuan resistance movement (both the armed wings that raise resistance against the government in the jungle and the diplomatic wings comprised of Papuans conducting diplomacy for the independence of West Papua in different foreign countries). (7) The killing of Indonesian soldiers and police by Papuan rebels. (8) The killing of Papuan rebels by Indonesian army and police.

These individual cases should not be seen as isolated problems that have to be settled separately. ‘Unsettled political issue’ They are simply reflections of the unsettled political issues, just like smoke indicating that there is fire. The detention, torture and sentencing to life sentences of indigenous Papuans will never settle the political issues that produce Papuan political prisoners. A political problem can only be settled with a political solution.

All the stakeholders, therefore, should be involved in identifying those political issues that cause the emergence of Papuan political prisoners and jointly determine solutions accepted by all parties concerned.

There will likely be new Papuan political prisoners in the near future. Hundreds of young Papuans held demonstrations on May 20 and 21 in Papua and West Papua in support of becoming a member of the MSG, which is now holding a leaders’ meeting and summit in the Solomon Islands capital of Honiora. The demonstrations were organized by the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB). Four members of the KNPB were detained by police in Manokwari and declared suspects.