Punishment persists for Polish political prisoner in West Papua
December 9, 2021
A Polish man imprisoned by an Indonesian court in 2018 after visiting West Papua as a tourist remains languishing in a cell in Papua’s remote interior with limited help from the government of Poland, and no compassion from Jakarta.
Jakub Skrzypski is serving a seven-year sentence for treason after being arrested in West Papua where Indonesian prosecutors accused him and a local man, Simon Magal, of having consorted with Papuan pro-independence activists to plot against the state in what bore the markings of a show trial.
The first foreigner to be found guilty of an attempt to overthrow Indonesia’s government, Skrzypski was initially sentenced to five years in prison, and Magal for four years, although two more years were added to the Pole’s sentence after an unsuccessful appeal.
Skrzypski, who denies the treason charges, has been incarcerated in Wamena in the highlands of Papua province. Concerns about his deteriorating health have been raised by human rights defenders. Skrzypski’s request for a transfer to elsewhere in Indonesia has come to nothing.
The European parliament recognised Skrzypski as a political prisoner, but its call two years ago for his transfer back to Poland also fell on deaf ears in Jakarta where the national government continues to restrict outside access to West Papua.
“The authorities try to isolate me as much as possible. First they sent me to Wamena. In here, they keep me in a small police cell, not in the proper prison,” Skrzypski told RNZ Pacific in communication through his lawyer who visited him in November.
Skrzypski didn’t deny he had met peaceful pro-independence activists in West Papua. But given the widespread discontent with Indonesian rule among West Papuans, it would be difficult to be in the region and not meet an indigenous person with active aspirations for independence.
“Their intentions are clear,” Skrzypski said of Indonesian authorities.
“Their case against me is so weak and ridiculous. Can’t believe they succeed. Because opposition is so weak.”
Previous cases of foreigners being charged in Papua that involved Swiss and French citizens arrested and detained in Papua resulted in swift intervention by their respective governments, and their release. According to Skrzypski, this was because they had “powerful governments behind them”.
He said two Polish consular officers in Indonesia had been helpful to him with simple practical things within their reach.
“But the real diplomatic pressure can come only from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And they’re shy. A petition to the Polish government to take action, prepared by my friends, got refused with a lame reason,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Skrzypski acknowledged that imprisonment had taken a toll on him.
“Overcrowding is a problem. But that’s everywhere. Cigarette smoke, noise and erratic behaviour of detainees under stress. All this has a bad impact on me. But what can be done? Only people with money or connections get anywhere.”
Provided he survives the full sentence, Skrzypski indicated he would write a book about his experience, but said he hoped he wouldn’t get assassinated or disappeared like Munir Said Thalib the Indonesian human rights activist who exposed Indonesian military violations in East Timor before being poisoned with arsenic on a flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam in 2004, or Mark Worth the Australian journalist and film-maker who died in West Papua in 2004 just two days after the ABC announced his documentary, Land of the Morning Star, would be screened across Australia.
Skrzypski’s case highlights both the Indonesian government’s sensitivity over the independence struggle in West Papua and the ineffectual way in which the international community has dealt with it. But he’s not the only one in jail in Papua on spurious charges of treason.
There are at least dozens of Papuan political prisoners in Indonesian jails, a list which could soon grow as eight students were charged with treason after involvement in a demonstration last week marking the 60th anniversary of a West Papuan declaration of independence.