Victor Yeimo, born in 1983, is a pro-independence activist and currently the General Secretary of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB). The KNPB emerged around 2008 as an organisation which organises mass demonstrations around West Papua, often to push for a referendum on West Papua’s political status, or to support the initiatives of the International Parliamentarians and International Lawyers for West Papua (IPWP and ILWP).
Several prominent figures in the KNPB were arrested after some demonstrations in the early days of the KNPB. Buchtar Tabuni was arrested on 3 December 2008 because of his role in organising a demonstration on 16 October that year, and Sebby Sambom was also arrested shortly afterwards. Later Mako Tabuni, Yance Mote and Serafin Diaz were arrested on 3 April 2009 in connection with a demonstration on 10 March. Although both demonstrations had gone peacefully, all those arrested were charged with treason and incitement (Articles 106 and 160 of the Indonesian Criminal Code). Buchtar Tabuni‘s case was the first to come to trial, and while he was found innocent of treason, he was convicted for incitement. This seems to have set a precedent, as the judge passed similar sentences in the other four cases.
Victor Yeimo was Deputy General Secretary of the KNPB at the time of his arrest. According to an article posted on the Papua Post website, Yeimo had been on the police wanted list since May 2009. A student group has reported that on 18 April his family home in Nabire was raided and three family members were arrested and interrogated overnight by police demanding to know his whereabouts. Finally on 21 October 2009 Yeimo was arrested in a hotel in Abepura by police conducting a sweeping operation, unconnected to any political activity.
Yeimo was prosecuted for his participation in the KNPB demonstration on March 2009. According to a report of the trial in Bintang Papua newspaper, he was accused of having cried out “Papua” to which the crowd replied “Merdeka!” (Freedom), “Special Autonomy,” to which the crowd shouted “No”, and “Referendum,” which was met with the response “Yes.”
Earlier allegations of Yeimo’s involvement in an attack on the Abepura city police station in April 2009 (reported on in an International Crisis Group report) appear to have been dropped rapidly after Mr Yeimo’s arrest.
Yeimo was charged with treason and incitement under Articles 106 and 160 of the Indonesian Criminal Code. If he was convicted of both treason and incitement, he would have faced a three-year prison sentence, but on 23 July 2010, he was found guilty of incitement rather than treason and was given a sentence of one year’s imprisonment minus time already spent in detention. In response, the Public Prosecutor submitted an appeal to indict Yeimo under Article 106 for treason, which would increase his total prison sentence to three years.
Papuan news sites Tabloid Jubi and Papua Post reported on this verdict in July 2010, stating that Yeimo was expected to be released in October 2010. However in a statement following his most recent arrest on 13 May 2012, Papuan police spokesman Gede Sumerta, alleged that Yeimo had escaped from prison in October 2010. His lawyer at the time, Gustaf Kawer, responded to this claim, stating that Yeimo had not escaped from prison and was sentenced to one year’ imprisonment, instead of three years as alleged by Sumerta, adding that Yeimo was seeking medical treatment in hospital in October 2010.
In commenting on the detention of Yeimo, Harry Maturbongs of KontraS Papua, reported in Tabloid Jubi, said: “Is it wrong if somebody says that the Act of Free Choice should be reviewed, that Special Autonomy has failed, and to ask that human rights in Papua be respected?”
As the KNPB has grown as a social movement across Papua, repression against its activists has also increased. Yeimo himself has stated to the Suara Papua website that 22 KNPB members were killed by security forces during 2012 and 55 were imprisoned.
On 1 December 2012, a day many Papuans commemorate as the anniversary of the first raising of their national flag in 1961, the KNPB attempted to hold a demonstration marching from the site of the assassination of Mako Tabuni to the grave of Theys Eluay, a Papuan leader assassinated by Indonesian security forces in 2001. Police stopped the demonstration and arrested Yeimo, who was soon released. Al Jazeera journalists travelling with Mr Yeimo at the time documented some of these events, and their documentary “Goodbye Indonesia” gives an insight into the daily tension KNPB leaders face.
Yeimo was arrested again on13 May 2013, when police stopped a group of demonstrators in Jayapura from carrying out a march demanding government accountability in the wake of the deaths, arrests and injuries from the commemorative events of 1 May 2013. Majalah Selangkah reported that Yeimo and three other activists, Yongky Ulimpa, Ely Kobak and Marthen Manggaprouw were arrested when Yeimo attempted to negotiate with the police to allow the march to proceed. A report from an activist present at the demonstration states that all four were severely beaten upon arrest and were allegedly hit with rattan canes, kicked and beaten in detention. Yeimo is the only one that currently remains in detention, and has been transferred to Abepura prison. He is expected to complete a three-year sentence in relation to the 2009 incident. This is despite statements made by his lawyers that he received a one-year sentence.