An Indonesian court on Wednesday sent seven Papuan activists to jail for treason after they organized an antiracism protest in September last year, demanding a referendum on self-determination in the easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua.
Reading out the verdicts against the activists in three separate virtual trials, the panels of judges of the Balikpapan District Court in East Kalimantan Province sentenced three of them to 11 months in jail, while the remaining four were given 10 months.
Their sentences were much lighter than sentences of between five years and 17 years demanded by government prosecutors. According to the law, anybody convicted of treason could face a life sentence.
The activists were involved in an antiracism protest in August last year in the Papuan provincial capital of Jayapura, in a response to two incidents on Java Island in which Papuan university students were allegedly subjected to racial abuse by soldiers.
In their protest, they demanded the self-determination referendum in the western half of New Guinea.
According to the judges, the activists were found guilty of having committed treason aimed at giving "a part of the country to the enemy" or "separating" it from Indonesia.
Responding to the convictions, Amnesty International Indonesia's Executive Director Usman Hamid called on the authorities to "immediately and unconditionally release" the activists, saying they merely exercised their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
"They should never have been arrested, detained or tried in the first place," Hamid said.
The activists were some among many who had been arrested and detained following last year's protests.
In April, the Central Jakarta District Court sentenced six activists, including five Papuans, up to nine months in jail for a similar protest in Jakarta.
Earlier, however, five military personnel involved in the incidents on Java island by calling the Papuan students "monkeys" and "dogs" were immediately suspended, but the incidents sparked the Jakarta protests, as well as riots in Papua and West Papua that claimed about 30 lives.
As Melanesians, indigenous Papuans are racially distinct from the Malay ethnic groups of the rest of Indonesia.
Over the past year, attacks by separatist rebels against Indonesian security forces have increased after a long period of relative calm in the province. In the last incident on Wednesday, two soldiers were killed during a clash with the rebels.
The western half of New Guinea was taken over by Indonesia from Dutch colonialists in 1963 and incorporated into the country after a 1969 U.N.-sanctioned plebiscite.
Since then, it has had a long-running separatist movement led by the Free Papua Movement, whose military wing is known as the West Papua National Liberation Army.
The eastern half of the world's second-largest island forms the mainland of the independent nation of Papua New Guinea.