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Papuan Freedom Political Detainees

Article – Selpius Bobii – Front Pepera Papua Barat

“We are not convicted political criminals but rather political detainees. In statements of our position I have until now preferred to use the term political detainee as opposed to the term convicted political criminals(narapidana politik) …

Papuan Freedom Political Detainees

By Selpius Bobii | Abepura Prison, Jayapura
29 May 2013

“We are not convicted political criminals but rather political detainees. In statements of our position I have until now preferred to use the term ‘political detainee’ as opposed to the term ‘convicted political criminals’(‘narapidana politik’) as used by Indonesia, as the latter refers to convicted criminals. We are detained not because we have done some criminal act but rather because we have done political actions for the sake of achieving freedom for Papua” stated Filep J. S. Karma at the moment we discussed perceptions in response to plan by the President of the Republic of Indonesia (RI) to give clemency to Papuan Political detainees. This statement by Filep Karma amounts to a rejection of the term ‘convicted political criminal’ (‘narapidana politik’) by the colonial State of Indonesia towards those prisoners of conscience who have been arrested and detained arbitrarily.

In our meeting held on 24 May 2013, the prisoners of conscience at the Abepura State Prison agreed unanimously for the term “Papuan Freedom Political Detainees” to be used (“Tawanan Politik Papua Merdeka (TAPOL PM)”. In this article I will explain the reason we rejected the term ‘narapidana politik’ and chose rather the term ‘Papuan Freedom Political Detainees’.

In order to differentiate in Indonesia between those who are presumed to be detained for political actions that contravene the criminal law and those who have carried out political actions as part of an ongoing personal decision, we use the terms ‘convicted political criminal’ and ‘political detainee’ respectively. The term political detainee (tapol) is used if the person is still within the legal process whilst the term ‘convicted political criminal’ (‘narapidana politik’ (napol)) is used if there has been a permanent legal decision.

To look closely at the term ‘narapidana’ in Indonesian (‘convicted criminal’), we see that word is made up of two roots being ‘nara’ which means ‘human being’ and ‘pidana’ which means ‘criminal’ or ‘evil’. Accordingly the word ‘narapidana’ means ‘a criminal person or a ‘doer of an evil act’.

The term has negative connotations of the person being ‘a criminal’. In Indonesia both those who are presumed to have violated the law by committing a criminal act and also those who are imprisoned as a result of having carried out political actions of conscience, are seen as ‘evil’. So those with the responsibility of being either armed forces or ‘prison wardens’ in Indonesia always equate political detainees with general convicted criminals. Often political detainees are treated in a discriminating manner and are acted upon arbitrarily by those with armed forces responsibilities and by prison wardens. This occurs due to their lack of understanding of the status of ‘political detainee’.

To respond to arbitrary actions from the security forces and prison wardens within Indonesia against political detainees, a number of protests and even pressures have been brought to bear in the past from a number of parties from both within and external to Indonesia; including from England, from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and from a number of other circles. Even the United Nations (UN) Council for Human Rights has criticized the despicable and arbitrary treatment by the armed forces and prison wardens of Indonesia towards Papuan political detainees who are imprisoned for expressing their opinions before the public in a non-violent manner, or who carry out political actions to uphold justice and truth. One of the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the UN Council for Human Rights in May 2012 was to request of Indonesia that the state releases all political detainees without conditions; and for Indonesia to repeal the treason sections of the Criminal Law Act as it contravenes principles of supreme and international laws.

The reality is that the term ‘political criminal’ (‘narapidana politik’) is part of the State of Indonesia’s attempts to criminalize the political aspirations of the Papuan community as conveyed and struggled for by peaceful means. There are also those who are detained for having carried out political actions with the use of violence – such as the use of traditional or modern weapons – to achieve their political ends. It is not accurate to use the term ‘political criminal’ (‘narapidana politik’) for those who are detained for reasons of struggling for the freedom of their nation (their people) from the colonisation of another country. In the case of those who are imprisoned for reasons of their different nationalistic ideology, the prison authorities are not capable of and will never be able to change their ideology which is that for which they struggle. The term ‘political criminal’ is not accurate in these cases. Rather the correct term in such cases is ‘independence political detainees’.

The term ‘political criminal’ with its negative connotations is not acceptable to the political detainees of Papua. On 24 May 2013 at the Abepura State prison in Jayapura Papua, all the prisoners of conscience of the nation of Papua stated their rejection of the use of the term ‘political criminal’ (‘narapidana politik’) in regards to themselves and agreed on the use of the term ‘Papuan Freedom Political Detainees’ (Tawanan Politik Papua Merdeka’).

The idea to use the term ‘political detainees’ was suggested by Filep J.S Karma. The suggestion was discussed at length amongst the prisoners of conscience of the nation of Papua and finally agreement was reached on the term ‘Papuan Freedom Political Detainees’ (Tawanan Politik Papua Merdeka (‘TAPOL PM’ atau TPPM’). There were several reasons this term was agreed upon. Firstly since the nation of Papua was annexed onto the Republic of Indonesia (RI) so that the nation of Papua has itself effectively been ‘imprisoned’ by RI and Indonesia’s allies. Secondly the prisoners of conscience of Papua themselves are detained by RI in the prisons of the Indonesian colonisers. Thirdly as the term ‘narapidana politik’ has negative connotations referring to a criminal political person.

If we refer to the English Indonesian dictionary of M. Echols & Hassan Shadily, it states that the word ‘prisoner’ can be translated as a person under a sentence of the law or a detainee. There are several types of detainees including prisoners of war, political prisoners and so forth.

‘Political detainee’ according to Filep J. S. Karma refers to all those persons who have been arrested and detained arbitrarily by the state through actions of its security forces due to differences in political ideology or because they exercised their freedom of expression and other political actions in the struggle for liberation of a nation (a people). Whether that is being processed under law, it has not yet been processed under the law or whether there has already been a final legal decision.

To look more closely at the matter of political detainees, if the state through its armed forces believe they have an obligation to arrest and detain those activists that struggle for the liberation of their nation, then those activists are in fact detained by a colonizing state. They are political detainees struggling for the liberation of a nation and in their very existence provide real proof that there exists a movement of people struggling for freedom of that nation from the colonization of another nation. The colonizing state imprisons the political detainees and at the same time is imprisoning the very nation (the people) itself.

Amongst detainees there are those who are detained in the usual manner and others that are detained in an unusual manner. Both prisoners of war and political prisoners fall into the second non-typical ‘special’ category of detainees.

In an atmosphere of war between two or more states, where persons from the opposing side are arrested and detained they may then be called ‘prisoners of war’. In circumstances where there is no war a state can detain citizens that carry out acts perceived to be against state authorities with violence plus those who protest non-violently against the government. These cases can be categorised as ‘political prisoners’ /‘political detainees’.

In cases of war, partial war or non-war, if the indigenous community of a nation of people demands its liberation from a colonizing nation and tries to achieve that end with the use of non-violent political actions or / and with the use of either traditional or modern weapons, then those who struggle for that freedom who are detained by the colonizing state are termed ‘ political prisoners’/ ‘political detainees’.

To distinguish between prisoners of war and political prisoners/detainees, by definition prisoners of war are soldiers that have been arrested and detained for the length of or until the end of the armed conflict between two or more states / countries. Whilst political detainees / prisoners are divided into two categories being firstly those imprisoned because they act against the government authorities in order to reorganise the order of governance of the state, in which case the purpose of their actions is not to establish a separate state; and the second category is where persons are imprisoned because they struggle for freedom of a people where the goal of the action is in fact to establish a new and separate state. To differentiate between political detainees that are detained for political actions aimed at improving or revolting against the present system of governance as opposed to those detained for actions aimed at establishing a new and separate state, the writer will use the respective terms ‘ normal political prisoners /detainees’ and ‘ Independence Political Prisoners/ detainees’ respectively.

Citizens of a country that are detained by the state as a consequence of acting against authorities in carrying out protest actions to improve the system of state governance are included in the ‘usual circumstances political prisoners’ category. Whilst political detainees acting for independence are persons who are detained by another state as a consequence of a struggle for liberation of their people (their nation) from another colonizing state/country.

With the above definition becomes clear the distinction between prisoners of war, usual circumstance political detainees and freedom / liberation political prisoners. Prisoners of war are detained as a means of finding out about (or attempting to reduce) the strength of the enemy, to attain negotiation between two opposing parties and to make the person too frightened to act again.

Usual circumstance political detainees are detained with the intention of the state hoping they will ‘rehabilitate’ themselves in prison or under home detention so that they can return to being ‘good’ citizens that obey all the laws in that place. Independence political detainees are also detained with the intention of curbing their behaviour / thinking and having them ‘rehabilitate’ themselves till they give up their way of thinking / ideas. However the reality is that Papuan Liberation Political Detainees in general defend their national liberation ideology against the colonizing country.

It is not as easy for colonizers to change their ideology that is struggled against and also not easy to surrender. There are also certain political detainees that give up during the regime of the colonizer with request of clemency followed by the offer of clemency from the President and that being accepted. Such is regarded as a betrayal towards the struggle for the peoples’ (nation’s) freedom. As the receiving of clemency from the Head of State means to surrender to the colonizing regime.

Especially political detainees under usual circumstances can receive clemency as they are not struggling to establish a new state. Throughout the time they are imprisoned they receive special treatment by the state through the prison wardens to change their behaviour and ‘rehabilitate’ themselves such that they might again come to abide by the applicable laws of the state in that place and so that their name might be ‘restored’. For example those political detainees that were imprisoned because of the rebellion of the Indonesian Communist Party, amongst whom were some given life sentences but later released with clemency given by the Indonesian President.

Prisoners of war are often detained without a due legal process as they are captured and detained as a consequence of armed conflict between two or more countries. Whereas those who are presumed to have violated the law because of carrying out political actions that are aimed at tearing down the systems of governance or the state, can be detained and required to undergo and legal process used to prove their have violated criminal law as accused by those in authority. If it is proven that they are at fault then those accused are brought down as convicted criminals.

Political detainees struggling for liberation of their people (their nation) may either be imprisoned without a due legal process or may alternatively be detained through a legal process. In the periods of the Old Order and the New Order in Indonesia, the majority of political detainees were detained without a proper legal process. Whereas since the Reformation, detainees cases have been processed via a racial and discriminatory legal process.

Through this document we as Papuan Freedom Political Detainees wish to convey to the Papuan community and our international community sympathisers, that whether as part of campaining or political lobbying that we will herein use the term ‘Papuan Freedom Detainees / Prisoners’ (TAPOL PM / TPPM). Let us forget or abolish that terminology used for criminalising Papuan Political aspirations by using the term ‘convicted political criminal’ (‘narapidana politik’ (NAPOL) which was born of the State of Indonesia.

It is important to note that Papuan Freedom Political detainees are not political criminals. The Indonesian colonial state is in fact the ‘Politically criminal regime’. And why is that so? Firstly because the Republic of Indonesia annexed the independent sovereignty of the nation of Papua onto Indonesia through a political and military invasion. Secondly because NKRI has never given total freedom to the indigenous peoples of Papua through the Act of Free Choice in 1969. Therefore accordingly the Act of Free Choice can be said to be morally and legally flawed. Thirdly as NKRI is defending the annexation of West Papua within Indonesia in ways that are both dirty and civilized.

At this time the State of Indonesia feels powerful and capable of defending a number of nations (peoples) from Sabang to Merauke, that were previously engineered into making one country and one state of the Republic of Indonesia with the motto of ‘ Unity in Diversity’ and the philosophy of ‘Pancasila’. RI has carried out a number of strategies and tactics to destroy the basic order of life in the Papuan community and to create a range of crises in the land of Papua. These crises are like alternating storms. But the people (nation) of Papua have a deep conviction that these storms will have an end and that the regime of the Republic of Indonesia surely must at some stage walk away from the land and waters of West Papua. The history of free countries in the world has written that ‘the prison door’ has been proven to become the door that leads to total liberation and the writer is totally convicted that this will occur even for the people (nation) of Papua and it will be a wonderful thing when it happens in God’s time. Amen.


Selpius Bobii is the General Chairperson of The United Front of the Struggle of the People of Papua, and a Papuan Freedom Political Detainee.

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