The seven individuals detained in Balikpapan were key activists of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) and the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) and student leaders. Agus Kossay, Buchtar Tabuni, Alexander Gobay, Ferry Gombo, Stevanus Itlay, Irwanus Uropmabin and Hengky Hilapok were arrested between 6 – 17 September 2019 following protests in Jayapura, during which Morning Star flags were flown and people were demanding an independence referendum. On 4 October 2019 they were transferred without any prior notice to their lawyers and/or families, from Papua to East Kalimantan province on the basis of “security reasons”. This transfer significantly increased the cost of providing legal aid for the trial and cut the prisoners off from their families and other sources of support. The trials commenced on 11 February 2020 and were guarded by hundreds of Indonesian police.
The prosecutors sought extremely long sentences that caused anger and indignation in West Papua. When they were freed, the State refused to fly them back to West Papua leaving them to incur large travel costs, especially during the pandemic. More than a thousand people welcomed them in a ceremony when they finally arrived in West Papua on 22 August 2020.