Mr. Michel Fors,
Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders
United Nations Office at Geneva
CH 1211 Geneva 10
4 August 2015
I am writing to you on behalf of TAPOL, a UK-based human rights organisation, regarding the ongoing threats faced by prominent human rights defender, Mr Theo Hesegem, in Jayawijaya, West Papua. Mr Theo Hesegem, is the head of the Advocacy Network for Upholding Law and Human Rights of Papua Central Highlands (Jaringan Advokasi Penegakan Hukum dan HAM Pegunungan Tengah Papua, JAPHAM) and the chair of the Coalition Team for Justice, Law and Human Rights of the Central Highlands of Papua (Tim Koalisi untuk Perdamaian, Hukum dan HAM Pengunungan Tengah). Hesegem has recently been subject to various threats in his work as a paralegal assisting victims of human rights violations in Jayawijaya Regency in Papua. Nevertheless, local police have recently restricted his activities as a paralegal and human rights defender and have threatened him for defending victims of human rights violations.
Mr Hesegem, is currently providing assistance to Mr Roby Pekei, a victim of arbitrary police violence. On 28 July 2015, Hesegem, along with other human rights defenders from the Coalition Team for Justice, Law and Human Rights, accompanied Pekei during a pre-trial hearing in Wamena District Court challenging the unprocedural manner of his arrest and detention. According to information received from the Coalition Team, the pre-trial hearing was attended by dozens of police officers. This heavy security presence was reportedly set up to intimidate the lawyers and paralegals. According to credible sources who attended the pre-trial hearing, police investigators were overheard stating that they “had to kill” Ms Anum Siregar, one of the human rights lawyers accompanying Mr Pekei.
Several days before the pre-trial hearing, on 22 July, police officers gathered outside the office of the human rights organisation Lotus Heart Forum Foundation (Yayasan Teratai Hati Papua, YTHP), who are also part of the Coalition Team assisting Mr Pekei. Police offices reportedly threatened Father John Jonjonga, the organisations’ director.
On 4 August, Wamena District Court judges rejected Mr Pekei’s pre-trial plea. Human rights lawyers from the Coalition Team are currently seeking to report this ruling to the National Judicial Commission. In our view, it is likely that human rights defenders accompanying this case will continue to face threats and intimidation from local authorities.
In 2014, Ms Siregar was stabbed in the hand when she defended a high-profile treason case involving the detention of a Papuan tribal leader in Wamena. In the same year, another prominent human rights lawyer, Mr Gustaf Kawer faced an attempted criminalisation by the courts, intimidation and threat of arrest by police, and was forced to relocate for several months for his own security. In 2012, another human rights lawyer, Ms Olga Hamadi received such extreme threats of physical violence outside courtrooms in Wamena that she was forced to leave town and to drop the case. These cases demonstrate that the situation is deteriorating for human rights defenders in West Papua. West Papua is an extremely dangerous place for HRDs. We are concerned that this pattern will continue to worsen and that their already difficult work to uphold justice in West Papua will be restricted even further if threats and intimidation such as that faced by Mr Hesegem are left unchallenged.
Facts of the Case
In May 2015, Mr Theo Hesegem received a threatening text message from an unknown number as well as a threatening phone call from the Chief of the Jayawijaya Regional Police, Grand Commissioner Adjutant Semmy Ronny Tabaa, after he protested the arrest and torture of a local Papan man, Serry Logo. The unknown text message stated “Don’t cry out about the victim or his torture just because you are a human rights defender. You don’t know when your turn will come to be tortured and experience the same misery.” Furthermore, when Hesegem complained about this torture case, the police chief in turn threatened him with torture and demanded that he did not get involved with the case.
On 21 June 2015, Mr Hesegem was threatened after assisting Roby Erik Pekei, a nursing college student in Jayawijaya who was shot three times in a row on his right ankle, left thigh and left shinbone by Wamena police. While the victim was in critical condition, his family requested for Mr Hesegem to accompany them on a hospital visit.
During this visit, Mr Hesegem and the family of the victim met with the Deputy Chief of Jayawijaya Police, together with his team members who were guarding the victim that night. Hesegem explained to police that the incident was unacceptable and stated his intention to hold a peaceful demonstration calling for justice. The family members, on the other hand, reprimanded and scolded the police after witnessing Mr Pekei’s critical condition. Responding to this, Mr Hesegem requested for the police to wait outside the emergency room as the victims’ family members were becoming very emotional. A short while later, the Head of Jayawijaya Regional Police, Grand Comissioner Adjutant Semmy Ronny Tabaa, arrived at the hospital and demanded for Mr Hesegem to leave. Almost two weeks later, on 4 July 2015, Tabaa was quoted in an article in local newspaper Cenderawasih Post, referring to the hospital visit on 21 June. He stated that Mr Hesegem was a provocateur who drove policemen out of the hospital that day.
In another incident, on 28 June 2015, Mr Theo Hesegem was denied access to provide paralegal accompaniment to members of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB) who were arrested for planning to hold a peaceful demonstration in Wamena, Jayawijaya regency. Mr Hesegem, along with three other activists were asked to leave by the Jayawijaya police chief. They were driven out for not having lawyer licenses.
Mr Hesegem states that such pressure, harassment and intimidation has been haunting him and other human rights defenders in Jayawijaya regency. He has requested for intervention to support him in his work as an activist holding authorities to account over human rights violations.
The Former Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Ms Hina Jilani, visited Papua in 2007 and stated that the risks faced by human rights defenders in West Papua continued to persist despite assurances by the military commander and the Chief of Police that there were no institutional policies targeting human rights defenders. She has recommended for national mechanisms to improve in order to ensure more credible oversight and accountability. She also recommended the creation of a special complaint mechanism for registering and redressing incidents of harm or threats faced by human rights defenders.
We therefore, urge you to raise this case with the Indonesian government, requesting that the obligation of the state to protect the security of human rights defenders is upheld. Furthermore, we urge you to conduct in-depth monitoring into the deteriorating situation faced by human rights defenders in West Papua.