Dominikus Surabut is the Secretary of the Papuan Customary Council (Dewan Adat Papua) in La Pago region, and is an activist, writer and documentary film maker. He participated in the organisation of the October 2011 Third Papuan People’s Congress, which lead to his arrest under treason charges.
From 17 to 19 October 2011, the Third Papuan People’s Congress was attended by more than 4,000 Papuan participants, and took place at the Zacheus football field of the Catholic Mission in Padang Bulan, near the provincial capital of Jayapura. The ‘Morning Star’ flag was raised at the event. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), around 2,200 members of the Indonesian military (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, TNI) and the police Mobile Brigades (Brigade Mobil, known locally as ‘Brimob’) were present. At least 100 members of the security forces reportedly surrounded the area with police cars, armoured vehicles and heavy firearms, whereas the participants were unarmed.
On 19 October 2011 at around 14:00 local time, a political declaration about the self-determination of Papuan people was read out by Mr Forkorus Yaboisembut and Mr Edison Waromi, who had just been elected as political leaders of what was declared to be the West Papuan Federal State.
Following the declaration, the Congress ended and participants began to disperse to return to their homes. Security forces began to fire shots into the air and reportedly used tear gas on the retreating crowd whilst beating participants, resulting in dozens injured. Around 300 persons were arrested and taken into custody in trucks, most of whom were later released. Video footage of the event, obtained by Down to Earth and TAPOL, has confirmed that a large number of shots were fired, and that unarmed Congress participants were beaten.
Mr Surabut was arrested along with four of the other Congress organisers; Forkorus Yaboisembut, Edison Waromi, August Makbrawen Sananay Kraar and Gat Wenda. On 20 October, Selpius Bobii, Chairman of the Congress, surrendered to the police. Gat Wenda was charged with Emergency Law 12 of 1951 for possession of a sharp weapon. The remaining five men were charged with treason (article 106 of the Indonesian Penal Code), conspiracy (article 110), and public incitement to violence against the authorities (article 160).
Gat Wenda was tried, sentenced to five months imprisonment and then released, as he had already served this time in detenion. Mr Surabut and the other four defendants were tried at the State Court in Abepura over 13 sessions, starting on 30 January 2012. On 16 March 2012, the five men were found guilty and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment – two years less than the five years requested by the Public Prosecutor. The defendants’ legal team and the Public prosecutor both appealed the decision on 4 April and the case was referred to the High Court. On 11 May 2012, the appeal was rejected by the High Court, which decision was again appealed by the defendants’ legal team, who took the case to the Supreme Court. On 24 July 2012, the Supreme Court issued Decision MA No.1029K/PD/2012 rejecting the appeal which had been made on behalf of the five defendants.
In December 2012, Mr Surabut was awarded the Hellman/Hammett award, administered by Human Rights Watch, for “commitment to free expression and the courage [shown] when facing political persecution.”
Amnesty International, “Indonesia: release participants of peaceful gathering in Papua,” 20 October 2011,
Asian Human Rights Commission, “Security forces open fire at the Third Papuan People’s Congress,” 19 October 2011,
Asian Human Rights Commission, “Troops open fire on Papuan gathering,” 20 October 2011,
Asian Human Rights Commission, “Indonesia: one person killed, hundreds arrested, and five persons charged with rebellion at the Third Papuan People’s Congress,” 20 October 2011,
East Timor and Indonesia Action Network, “Congressman Faleomavaega calls upon government of Indonesia to ensure safe and humane treatment for West Papuans in custody and to work for their release,” 21 October 2011,
Human Rights Watch, “Biographies of 2012 Hellman/Hammet Awardees,” 4 December 2012, www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/Biographies-of-2012-HH-Awardees.doc
Human Rights Watch, “Indonesia: independent investigation needed into Papua violence,” 27 October 2011,
Jakarta Globe, “Dozens injured as Papua group declares independence from Indonesia,” 19 October 2011,
Jakarta Globe, “At Papuan Congress, a brutal show of force,” 22 October 2011,
TAPOL, East Timor and Indonesia Action Network, West Papua Advocacy Team, “Indonesian crackdown on Papuan Congress sparks outrage,” 20 October 2011,
Video : Metro TV, “Polisi Buru Peserta Kongres Pendirian Negara Papua « , 19 October 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eB_lHvxGdg
Last updated: 4 January 2013