Indonesian prisoner of conscience jailed for raising flag is released

Amnesty International has welcomed the release of an Indonesian prisoner of conscience jailed for his role in a peaceful flag-raising protest.

Yusak Pakage, 31, was released on Wednesday morning from the Doyo Baru prison in Sentani, Papua province.  He had been serving a ten-year sentence for his role in a peaceful demonstration in December 2004 during which the Morning Star flag, symbolising Papuan independence, was raised.

According to local sources, Yusak Pakage was released because he was granted a presidential pardon last month, as a result of the visit of the Indonesian Justice and Human Rights Minister to political prisoners in May 2010. Yusak Pakage has served half of his 10-year sentence.

On his release, he thanked Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for campaigning on his behalf.

"We are delighted that Yusak Pakage has been freed but he should never have been convicted in the first place. The authorities should always make a distinction between peaceful political activists and violent groups," said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International's Indonesia researcher.

"In particular, the Indonesian authorities should no longer arrest, detain and convict people for merely waving a flag in Maluku or Papua."

Fifty-year-old prisoner of conscience Filep Karma, who was also arrested in 2004 for his role during the demonstration, is still serving a 15-year sentence for "rebellion". He is currently in need of urgent medical care at Abepura Prison in Papua province. Although he was recently granted permission to travel to Jakarta to receive further treatment, the Indonesian authorities have been delaying his travel.

"The Indonesian authorities should organize Filep Karma's transfer to Jakarta immediately so that he can receive medical treatment, and then release him," Isabelle Arradon said.

In Indonesia, scores of peaceful political activists in Papua and Maluku have been arrested, detained and sometimes sentenced to long-term imprisonment for attending or participating in peaceful flag-raising events.

"While Amnesty International takes no position on the political status of any province of Indonesia, the right to freedom of expression, including the right to peacefully advocate referenda, independence or other political solutions, must be upheld," Isabelle Arradon said.