Subject: 'Nonsense' life sentence for Maluku separatist sparks criticism

also Indonesian Separatist Gets Life in Jail

The Jakarta Post Saturday, April 5, 2008

'Nonsense' life sentence for separatist

Lilian Budianto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The life sentence given to a traditional dance coordinator for waving a separatist flag in front of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last year sparked criticism Friday, with a rights activist calling it excessive.

Asmara Nababan, a former secretary-general of the National Commission on Human Rights, said the panel of judges at the Ambon District Court failed to consider that the actions of Johan Teterisa were non-violent.

"The judges should have deemed his action more as a political aspiration than a life-threatening act," Asmara said. "He only waved an RMS flag, and did not carry a weapon."

RMS is the South Maluku Republic, a largely Christian separatist group.

In addition to finding Johan guilty, the court over the past two months convicted 19 other members of the traditional dance group of treason, sentencing them to between 10 and 20 years in prison.

State news agency Antara reported Johan broke into tears when the sentence was handed down. The panel of judges said they refused to show leniency toward Johan, an elementary school teacher, as he was sentenced for a similar offense in 2003.

The judges said Johan had been found to be the leader of the RMS in Aboru village in Central Maluku, having joined the group in 2002.

The June 29, 2007, incident was a major embarrassment for Yudhoyono, who was presiding over a ceremony to mark National Family Day in the Maluku capital, where religious violence between 1999 and 2001 claimed thousands of lives.

Asmara said the government had overreacted to the incident.

"The life sentence is too much. The government should have been more open-minded in settling the case. We already have too many political prisoners," he said.

Antonius Sujata, a former deputy attorney general, slammed the sentence, saying a life sentence was uncalled for in an episode that did not endanger the lives of others.

"The treason charge and the life sentence were emotional, political and nonsense," Antonius said. "The man only waved a flag and did not try to harm the President."

No separatists brought to trial for taking up arms in the rebellious provinces of Aceh and Papua in the past have been sentenced so harshly. Many Aceh rebels were released following the peace agreement that put an end to the decades-long conflict in the province. In Papua, many armed rebels have avoided trial by handing over their arms to security authorities.

Life sentence is the maximum penalty for treason under the Criminal Code.

The South Maluku Republic has waged a low-key, relatively non-violent independence movement for years. Security authorities have dismissed the group as a threat to national unity.

The Associated Press Friday, April 4, 2008

Indonesian Separatist Gets Life in Jail

A court has sentenced the leader of a separatist group in eastern Indonesia to life in prison for waving the flag of a mostly Christian secessionist movement in front of the president last year.

At court official said at least 19 others were convicted of treason and sentenced to between 10 and 20 years over the flag-waving demonstration, which was nonviolent.

The incident was a major embarrassment to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as he presided over a government ceremony in the eastern province of Maluku, which was wracked by violence between Muslims and Christians between 1999 and 2002.

The harshness of the punishments shows Indonesia's extreme sensitivity to separatist movements in the sprawling archipelago and will likely trigger criticism by rights activists.

The group itself, a tiny outfit known by the Indonesian acronym RMS, has little support. It does not believe in violence, and analysts say it poses no threat to central government control of the region.

Court spokesman Amin Syafrudin said the leader of the separatist group, Johan Teterisa, was sentenced to life imprisonment Thursday in the provincial capital Ambon after being found guilty of treason.

State news agency Antara reported Teterisa cried when the sentence was handed down.

His lawyers were not immediately available for comment Friday.

Another 19 members of the group have been convicted on treason charges over the last two months, said Syafrudin on Friday. The trials have received little attention in the national media.

Indonesia is overwhelmingly Muslim, but Christians form the majority in parts of Maluku and other eastern regions.

The RMS first emerged in the 1950s soon after Indonesia won its independence from Dutch colonial rule. The group, which was mostly Christian but had some Muslim members, was defeated militarily and its leadership fled to the Netherlands, where it briefly had a government-in-exile.

It was largely forgotten until Maluku erupted in Muslim-Christian violence in 1999 that killed some 9,000 people. The Muslim side took to calling their Christian foes separatists, a charge that helped give their cause legitimacy among the country's mostly Muslim leadership and media.

An overwhelming majority of Christians in the province insist they do not want a separate state.

Indonesia, which has some 18,000 islands and scores of ethnic groups, is battling separatists in Papua province. In 2005, the government reached a deal with secessionists in Aceh province, ending a war that had killed 15,000 people.



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