Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Political Prisoners while Staying at Mantra Hotel in Melbourne


I stay at Mantra on Russell, a hotel in Melbourne, with a space so big, it is like staying in a small apartement with its washing machine, a fully equipped kitchen, a bedroom, a balcony, a dining table, and a living room. It has two TV sets --in the bedroom and the living room-- and a sound system. Maybe Obelix will say, "The Australian owner must be crazy."

Mantra on Russel

Mantra
Problem is I almost did not spend much time in this spacious room but taking a shower and sleeping. I have a busy schedule in Melbourne, basically attending seven events each day. It includes a seminar at the University of Melbourne, talking about the effort to release political prisoners in West Papua and the Moluccas Islands.

On May 9, 2015, President Joko Widodo announced clemency for five Papuan prisoners --Apotnalogolik Lokobal, Numbungga Telenggen, Kimanus Wenda, Linus Hiluka, and Jefrai Murib-- while visiting Papua’s provincial capital of Jayapura. The five men, convicted by a Wamena court in 2003 for their alleged role in a raid on an Indonesian Armed Forces weapons arsenal in Wamena on April 4, 2003, that resulted in the deaths of two soldiers, were serving prison terms ranging from 19 years and 10 months to life imprisonment.

They were released during Widodo’s visit to Abepura prison, in Jayapura. Only Telenggen and Murib, who were sentenced to life, were involved in the raid. The other three were arrested because of their pro-independence views.

Balcony which shows Russel Street. 
Most Papuan and Mollucan political prisoners reject the concept of clemency as it requires an admission of guilt in return for release. The Indonesian government consistently arrests and jails protesters for peacefully advocating independence or other political change. Many such arrests and prosecutions are of activists who peacefully raise banned symbols, such as the Papuan Morning Star and the South Moluccan RMS flags.

Making a mug of tea in the kitchen.
Under Indonesian law, President Widodo has three options for releasing prisoners: clemency, amnesty, or abolition. Clemencies require a request for clemency from the prisoner and an admission of guilt. Indonesian law obligates the president to consult the Supreme Court prior to granting any clemencies. The president can also grant convicted prisoners an amnesty and grant prisoners whose legal process is not yet exhausted abolition. Neither abolitions nor amnesties require a prisoner’s request or admission of guilt, but the president must consult the House of Representatives prior to issuing either abolition or an amnesty.

Living room with its own TV set.
Most of Indonesia’s political prisoners were convicted of makar (rebellion or treason) under articles 106 and 110 of the Indonesian Criminal Code. Article 6 of Government Regulation 77/2007, which regulates regional symbols and prohibits display of flags or logos that have the same features as “organizations, groups, institutions or separatist movements.” Both the Papuan Morning Star flag and the flag of the Republic of the South Moluccas (Republik Maluku Selatan, RMS) are considered to fall under this ban.

The bathroom with a bath tub.
The conduct of the Indonesian security forces in Papua has also bred a deepening antipathy between native Papuans and Indonesian authorities. The security forces in Papua have been implicated in dozens of human rights abuses over the past decade, including the killing of five unarmed peaceful protesters in the remote town of Enarotali on December 8, 2014. Three separate official probes into the shootings, conducted by the police, the national human rights commission, and an informal military-and-police effort, have yet to release the result of their investigations.

The kitchen has full equipments. 
Redress for such abuses is often obstructed by a lack of transparency fueled by official restrictions on media freedom in Papua. The Indonesian government has for decades effectively blocked foreign media from freely reporting in Papua by only allowing access to foreign journalists who get special official permission to visit the island.

The government rarely approves these applications or delays processing them, hampering efforts by journalists and nongovernmental groups to report on breaking events. Official minders invariably shadow journalists who do get official permission, strictly controlling their movements and access to people they want to interview.

It has only a single bedroom. 
Widodo told a group of foreign reporters on May 9 that he would declare a complete lifting of those restrictions on May 10. However, he did not provide any details and it is uncertain how quickly and how effectively Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has long regulated foreign media access to Papua, will implement the measure. There are also serious questions about the degree to which Papuan security forces will respect the right of foreign media to freely operate in Papua.

Indonesian authorities in August 2014 detained Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat, two French journalists who were producing a documentary, and threatened them with “subversion” charges for allegedly filming members of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM). On October 6, a court in Papua’s city of Jayapura convicted them of “abusive use of entry visas,” sentenced them to time served, and released them the same day.

Although the government permits Indonesian domestic media to report from Papua, there are serious questions about the reliability and objectivity of their reporting in the face of government efforts to control the flow of information from the island. Official documents leaked in 2011 indicate that the Indonesian military employs about two dozen Papua-based Indonesian journalists as informers. The military has also financed and trained journalists and bloggers, warning them about alleged foreign interference in Papua, including by the US and other governments.

It was these ideas that I share in Melbourne. I guess the hotel room becomes less relevant now. I also almost never used it but for taking a shower and sleeping. 

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