London, 8 May 2015 – Today, Papuan political detainee Areki Wanimbo was acquitted of conspiracy to commit treason and released from prison, after spending over nine months in detention in West Papua, Indonesia. Mr Wanimbo, an indigenous tribal leader and local teacher was arrested in Wamena in the Central Highlands of West Papua, alongside two French journalists who had travelled to the resource-rich region to investigate one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.
Mr Wanimbo was arrested when the journalists he was meeting attracted the attention of intelligence agents. Due to the de-facto ban on foreign media in West Papua, Valentine Bourrat and Thomas Dandois had entered the region using tourist visas. As they met locals in and around Wamena, they soon fell under police suspicion and were arrested alongside Mr Wanimbo. Following their arrest, rather than being deported as most commentators expected, Bourrat and Dandois were prosecuted under immigration charges and sentenced to 2.5 months’ imprisonment.
While the trial of the two French journalists was over in a matter of days, Mr Wanimbo’s trial was subject to lengthy and repeated delays.
Finally released from his cell, Mr Wanimbo will now be able to return to his wife and family, as well as his students whose studies have been on hold during his incarceration. The acquittal is a triumph for Wanimbo’s legal defence team, who braved considerable risks to provide a legal defence, including a knife attack on Ms Latifah Anum Siregar.
“In the history of political trials in Papua, this the first time in 14 years that a treason suspect has been acquitted; the last time I remember was the case of Theys Eluay. This verdict is a real step forward,” said Latifah Anum Siregar of Mr Wanimbo’s defence team.
Although Mr Wanimbo has been released, the prosecutor has stated his intention to appeal the verdict to Indonesia’s Supreme Court. Wanimbo therefore remains at risk of re-incarceration should the appeal be successful.
TAPOL welcomes the acquittal of Areki Wanimbo, and calls on President Jokowi to order the immediate and unconditional release of all other Papuan political prisoners, and lift the media blackout in Papua.