CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance, and Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) are gravely concerned by the ongoing prosecution of human rights defender Victor Yeimo.
He has been arbitrarily detained for speaking up against the serious human rights violations perpetrated by the Indonesian security forces against Papuans and must be released immediately.
Victor Yeimo, a pro-independence activist and international spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat or KNPB, was arrested on 9 May 2021 and has been charged with treason under Articles 106 and 110 of the Indonesian Criminal Code. Human rights groups believe the charges stemmed from his peaceful involvement in anti-racism protests in 2019 and his participation at a UN Human Rights Council session the same year. On the day of his arrest, he was denied access to legal assistance and his family.
"We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Victor Yeimo and all other political prisoners in Papua. The government of Indonesia should not criminalise activists who speak up against human rights violations in Papua and instead listen and address their grievances," said Josef Benedict, Asia-Pacific Civic Space Researcher of CIVICUS.
Since his arrest, he has been suffering from severe health conditions. Yeimo has been diagnosed with empyema of the gallbladder, tuberculosis, hypocalcemia and leukocytosis. He also has a history of gastric and lung disease. His trial has had to be postponed several times due to this. During the last hearing at the Jayapura District Court on 21 February 2022, he was formally indicted on charges of treason for calling for the independence of West Papua. His trial is ongoing.
In recent years, human rights violations in Papua have come under increasing scrutiny by the United Nations and the international community. In 2019, mass anti-racism protests took place in Papua and various provinces in Indonesia - one of which Victor Yeimo was peacefully involved - following the arrest of 43 students in Surabaya, East Java, for allegedly disrespecting the Indonesian flag. The protests were met with excessive and lethal force from security forces and an internet blackout in Papua. In 2021, there were further protests after the central government revised and renewed the Special Autonomy Law, further stripping the region's critical aspects of decentralisation and autonomy. At last, 15 other activists are also facing treason charges for their peaceful activism in Papua.
More recently, the UN Special Rapporteur of Human Rights Defenders, in a statement, raised concerns about the deteriorating situation in Papua and West Papua provinces, with a significant number of cases of displacement of indigenous peoples, extrajudicial killings, disappearance, and torture. Among the victims include Papuan children. The UN expert called on the Government of Indonesia to conduct an independent investigation into the violations and urges humanitarian access to the province.
"The work of Victor Yeimo and other activists in Papua, who have been bravely voicing out about the massive human rights violations committed by security forces in Papua, is essential to holding the government of Indonesia accountable and bringing to justice to victims and their families. Instead of criminalising them, the government should create a safe and enabling environment for activists and others to voice their concerns," said Basil Fernando, Director, Policy and Programme at the Asian Human Rights Commission.
Civic space in Indonesia is rated 'obstructed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.