The trial of a West Papuan independence activist, jailed for over six months without facing charges, has been delayed for a fourth time, this time because no judge was present at the court.
Yanto Awerkion, 27, was due to appear on Tuesday and has had his hearing rescheduled for today (Thursday) in Timika in Indonesia’s Papua Province.
The pro-independence independence West Papua National Committee (KNPB) movement, of which Awerkion is a deputy regional leader, said the previous three cancellations were because of a lack of witnesses.
Awerkion was arrested on June 23, 2017, because of his involvement with a petition demanding independence for the ethnically distinct provinces of Papua and West Papua.
He reportedly faces charges of treason and a sentence of 15 years or life in prison.
The Free West Papua campaign said Awerkion’s health had seriously deteriorated during his incarceration and he had been prevented from seeing his wife and daughter.
The document with 1.8 million signatures called on the United Nations to “put West Papua back on the decolonisation committee agenda and ensure their right to self‐determination … is respected by holding an internationally supervised vote”.
The petition also asked for the appointment of a special representative to probe human rights abuses. It was rejected by the UN’s decolonisation committee because West Papua was deemed outside its mandate.
The western half of the vast island of New Guinea was transferred from Dutch to Indonesian rule in 1963. It was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 following a UN-sponsored vote by tribal leaders that was dismissed as a fix.
In the so-called Act of Free Choice, the only voters were 1,063 people picked by the armed forces and compelled to vote in favour of Indonesian annexation.
Indonesia’s highest poverty levels, in relative terms, are in the provinces of Papua, West Papua and Maluku, all located in the far east of Indonesia, according to Jakarta’s Statistics Agency.
Indonesian embassy in Australia spokesman Sade Bimantara said the rights of citizens to “peacefully voice their opinions” was enshrined in Indonesian law, but “when laws are broken, the authorities will act to enforce the law”.
Activities supporting or inciting acts that aimed to “take over or separate a part of the Indonesian territory and the formation of a new state in its place”, he told the Guardian.
Bimantara added that “separatist groups in Papua and West Papua have been found to commit a number of offences”, and referred to the killing of a police officer last year.
Jayapura, Papua. Picture credit: Flickr