At least 100 protesters demanded the immediate release of 76 political prisoners in Papua outside the Indonesian Embassy in London, UK, on Wednesday, in a peaceful rally organized by TAPOL, Survival International and Amnesty International UK.
The protesters called on Indonesia’s political parties and candidates to state their support for basic democratic rights in Papua ahead of next week’s national legislative election. Similar rallies were held in Scotland, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and also in Jayapura, Papua.
The protesters, who represented each of the Papuan political prisoners currently behind bars, were symbolically handcuffed and taped across the mouth to highlight the silencing of free speech in Indonesia's easternmost province.
Papuan political prisoner Dominikus Surabut sent a message on Wednesday to April 2 protesters around the world from his cell in Abepura prison, Jayapura regency, saying, “Freedom and democracy cannot be killed or imprisoned. Its spirit is absolute. No person or state can defeat it. To all advocates of human rights and democracy: we cannot remain silent. We must join hands and spirits together to achieve democratic freedoms.”
Surabut was arrested on Oct. 19, 2011, and is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for his participation in a peaceful political gathering.
Despite widespread international concern about the political and human rights situation in Papua, Indonesian political parties have remained silent on what they can offer for a peaceful Papua. Some demonstrators challenged Indonesia's presidential candidates to take up the issue of Papua and explain their policies.
Protesters held placards reading: "Jokowi: Will you give free speech to Papua?" and "Bakrie: Will you release Papuan political prisoners?", referring to Jakarta Governor and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) presidential candidate Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Golkar Party chairman and presidential candidate Aburizal Bakrie.
In a letter to Indonesian Ambassador to the UK Teuku Mohammad Hamzah Thayeb, delivered on Wednesday, rally organizer TAPOL said 537 political arrests had been made in Papua in 2013, more than double the number of arrests in 2012. The number of reported cases of torture and ill-treatment in detention tripled, while the number of cases denying access to lawyers and unfair trials doubled.
The letter pointed out that the huge increase in arrests "is particularly disturbing in the run-up to the Indonesian national elections next week. The lack of democratic space in Papua means that the elections are largely irrelevant as far as many Papuans are concerned".