Papua activist gets 10 months jail for independence petition

JAYAPURA, Indonesia (AP) — An Indonesian court has found a Papuan activist guilty of incitement and sentenced him to 10 months in prison for promoting a petition calling for a referendum on independence for the region.

Yanto Awerkion was arrested last May in Timika near the U.S.-owned Grasberg gold and copper mine that’s a lightning rod for Papuan grievances. He will be released within weeks because of time served.

Awerkion, the deputy chairman of the Timika chapter of the West Papua National Committee, was sentenced on Monday at the Timika District Court.

The 28-year-old was arrested for speaking at a meeting where he announced the petition had been signed by hundreds of thousands of Papuans. He was originally charged with treason, according to a statement from the Free West Papua Campaign, but the treason charge wasn’t proven.

His imprisonment was the subject of international criticism after rights advocates reported his heath had deteriorated due to inadequate food and poor jail conditions.

Papua, a mineral-rich former Dutch colony on the western part of New Guinea, was annexed by Indonesia in 1962, sparking a simmering insurgency.

The region’s mineral resources have been exploited for decades by U.S. mining company Freeport, but indigenous Papuans have benefited little and are poorer, sicker and more likely to die young than people elsewhere in Indonesia.

Organizers of the petition said it was submitted to the U.N. decolonization committee in September. But the head of the committee at that time, Rafael Ramirez, denied receiving any petition and said Papua was not part of the committee’s mandate.

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This story has been corrected to show the activist was found guilty of incitement not treason and that treason was unproven.

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