Congressional letter for Indonesian Prisoners of Conscience

Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island has sponsored a Congressional Letter addressed to the President of Indonesia regarding Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, Amnesty International’s Prisoners of Conscience.

PLEASE call your Representative and ask him or her to sign on to the letter – your rep can do so by contacting Daniel Murphy in Representative Kennedy’s office (5-4911). You can locate your representative’s phone number from this website. There is not much time to get signatures on the letter.

Another way to contact your representative is to participate in the online action in which AIUSA will send a letter to your Representative by email on your behalf.

Please encourage your friends and family to do the same. Every US Representative who signs onto the letter strengthens the message and ultimately will help.

Below is the text of the letter to the President of Indonesia, and a bit of background info.

Letter to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

Dr. H Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
President of the Republic of Indonesia
Istana Merdeka
Jakarta 10110
Indonesia

Your Excellency,

We the undersigned members of the U.S. Congress respectfully call to your attention the cases of Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage who, in May 2005, were convicted and sentenced for their involvement in the legitimate and peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression in Abepura, Papua on December 1, 2004. Amnesty International has declared the two “prisoners of conscience.” We also call your attention to reports by reputable sources that Mr. Karma was beaten by the police following his arrest. There are also reliable reports that police at the scene of the demonstration beat a human rights defender who sought to photograph the violent police action against peaceful
demonstrators.

The unjust imprisonment of Mr. Karma and Mr. Pakage occurs in the context of a crackdown on Papuan human rights defenders, which has included general public threats by senior military officials and intimidation directed at individuals by anonymous figures. This campaign of threats and intimidation has targeted Papuans who met with and gave testimony about human rights abuse to a senior UN human rights representative when she visited Papua at your government’s invitation in June 2007.

We urge you to take action to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Karma and Mr. Pakage. Any security officials who mistreated Mr. Karma or who may have employed inappropriate force against peaceful demonstrators should be prosecuted. Such steps would be an important indicator that Indonesia, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, takes its international obligations to fully respect universally recognized human rights.

In accordance with all applicable rules and regulations, we thank you for your attention to this matter.

Signed

Background

Following the forced resignation of former Indonesian President Suharto in 1998, over 230 political prisoners were released in a series of presidential amnesties, and repressive legislation limiting freedom of expression fell out of use for a brief period of time. Since early 2001, however, such legislation has once again been used with increasing frequency against government critics, including labor and political activists, journalists, and activists in Aceh and West Papua. A number of human rights organizations have also been charged with “defamation,” in what appears to be an attempt by the authorities to discredit them and disrupt their legitimate work.

Amnesty International has documented more than 60 prisoners of conscience sentenced to prison terms since 1998. Hundreds more political prisoners have faced trial in the provinces of Aceh, Papua and Maluku, and Amnesty International believes that many may have been convicted solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.

In May of 2005 Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage were convicted for taking part in a peaceful demonstration commemorating the 1962 declaration of Papuan independence. Karma and Pakage’s convictions came under Articles 154 and 155 of the Indonesian Criminal code. These articles criminalized “public expression of feelings of hostility, hatred or contempt toward the government” and prohibited “the expression of such feelings or views through the public media.” In July 2007, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court overturned these laws – yet dozens of people remain in prison for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression. Indeed, earlier this year, several people convicted of waving pro-independence flags in front of the President in Ambon in the Malukus in 2007 were convicted of treason and sentenced up to life in prison.

According to Amnesty International and other reports, Indonesian police who arrested Mr. Karma at the site of the demonstration subsequently beat him en route to the police station. At least four people were reportedly injured when police opened fire on the peaceful crowd. Police also reportedly beat a human rights monitor who attempted to photograph the police attack on the crowd gathered for the flag raising ceremony.

On May 16, the United Nations Committee Against Torture reported the following regarding Indonesia: “The Committee is deeply concerned about the numerous ongoing credible and consistent allegations, corroborated by the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other sources, concerning routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody, especially to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings.”

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