On Wednesday, January 20, 2016, Filep Karma, a former political prisoner, received a permit to visit Moluccan political prisoners on Nusa Kambangan prison island. The permit was signed by I Wayan Dusak, the director general on prisons at the Ministry of Law and Human Rights. Karma lobbied the ministry to let him visiting these prisoners. The permit was addressed to the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) which legally advised and helped Karma to apply for the rare permit.
Karma asked me to accompany him to go to Nusa Kambangan. He has no car. He is not familiar with Java Island. He has not driven a car for 11 years while behind bars.
I have also asked for such a permit over the last five years and never got one. I consulted Phelim Kine, my supervisor at Human Rights Watch. Nusa Kambangan is a maximum security prison where the Indonesian government jails around 50 jihadists, including Abu Bakar Bashir and his successor Aman Abdurrahman. Phelim agreed that I should go.
Problem was that the permit only for a one-day visit on Thursday, January 21, 2016. It takes about eight hours driving from Jakarta to Cilacap on southern coast of Central Java. We also need to have a 10-minute boat ride to reach Nusa Kambangan from a Cilacap harbor. We had no other option but prepared ourselves that night.
That night Karma also asked Emilia Renita, the leader of a Muslim Shia group, to travel with him to Cilacap. Renita and Karma are old time friends. She visited him in his Papua prison. Renita asked her comrade, Ferdi Irwandi, a former corporate lawyer who has an Isuzu Panther SUV, to travel with them to Cilacap. Ferdi would drive the car.
That night I also asked Imam Shofwan, a long time friend and the head of Pantau Foundation, which helps Papuan political prisoners, to travel with me. Imam brought along his wife, Della Syahni, their little daughter Kembang, and Della’s sister Yanose Syahni. Both Della and Imam often help Human Rights Watch.
We started at 5am from Jakarta, travelling with two cars: my Ford Ecosport SUV and Ferdi’s Isuzu.
The cars were great!
Unfortunately, Ford Motor is closing down in Indonesia.
Imam and I took turn to drive the eight-hour trip. The Shofwans joined my car. Ferdi drove his car with Karma and Renita. We reached Cilacap at 2pm, directly going to the Tanjung Intan harbor controlled by the Ministry of Law and Human Rights. They were already waiting for us.
Background of the Moluccan Prisoners
On June 29, 2007, during the National Family Day festivities at Merdeka Stadium in Ambon, 28 Moluccan dancers entered the tightly controlled stadium, danced the cakalele traditional war dance, and unfurled the banned Southern Moluccas Republic flag.
A school teacher, Johan Teterisa, led the dancers, who mostly came from Aboru village, Haruku Island, east of Ambon. The incident publicly embarrassed then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in front of his foreign guests. After the dance, he told the audience that there is “no tolerance” in Indonesia for separatism. Kompas headlined his statement.
Local officials reacted by immediately arresting those dancers and their supporters, taking them to the counter-terrorism police Detachment 88/Anti-Terror headquarters in Tantui, Ambon. They were tortured. Many of them suffer long illness due to the torture in Tantui. Human Rights Watch described these tortures in a 2010 report.
They were tried in the Ambon district court and found guilty for treason, receiving punishment from seven to 20 years jail terms.
On March 10, 2009, the Ambon government unexpectedly transferred 37 these political prisoners, including the dancers, from Ambon to Semarang, Central Java. From Semarang, they were transferred to Porong prison near Surabaya in East Java (seven prisoners), Kediri also in East Java (six prisoners), Semarang (six prisoners), and Malang in East Java (six prisoners). Twelve prisoners were sent to Nusa Kambangan Island, Central Java, with half sent to Permisan prison and the other half to Kembang Kuning prison. Nusa Kambangan has seven prison buildings including Permisan and Kembang Kuning.
Most of these nearly 100 prisoners have been released. Now only seven prisoners remain on Nusa Kambangan Island. Five others are still staying in Porong prison. Madiun has one Moluccan prisoner. Ambon prison on Ambon Island still has 15 political prisoners.
Kembang Kuning Prison
Kembang Kuning has six Moluccan political prisoners. We met them at the prison meeting place. A prison guard, Gianto, accompanied us and took our photos. He was friendly. Imam Shofwan, Della Syahni, Yanose Syahni, Filep Karma and I interviewed the six prisoners. We cannot bring cameras into Nusa Kambangan. Gianto later shared his photos.
Renita and Ferdi, who actively monitor the Islamic State and Al Qaeda in Indonesia, talked to the prison guard about the five jihadists in Kembang Kuning including Aman Abdurrahman. “No prison guard dare to enter his cell,” said a prisoner. Abdurrahman has a laptop and a cell phone inside his cell, according to two prisoners. He also organizes Friday prayer sermons. They also do dakwah inside the prison, converting a Nigerian into Islam, according to some prisoners.
These six Moluccan prisoners have never seen their families nor having any family visit since their transfer in March 2009. Our visit was the second visit that they have after a Papuan activist visited them in 2011. They refuse to apply for a pardon from President Joko Widodo, claiming that it means they have to admit guilt. But they are okay if given amnesty or abolition.
• Ruben Saija is one of the 28 dancers. He is now 32 years old. He got 20 years jail term for the protest dance in 2007. He looks thin. Just like me, he’s 165 centimeters tall. I am 70 kilograms. I estimated his weight only 60 kilograms. He is also suffering kidney problem, often urinating with blood. He repeatedly said he was only once treated at the Batu prison clinic but only advised to avoid eating stinky beans. He is not given any medication. “Only those who have money could be treated in Cilacap hospital,” he said. His wife, Yohana Teterisa, is Johan Teterisa’s daughter. They have a 10-year-old daughter, Vike Florensia Saija, whom Ruben has never seen after he was transferred to Nusa Kambangan in 2009. “I left her when she was still a baby,” he said.
• Yohanis Saija was a teenager when he joined the dance in 2007. He’s now 29 years old. He’s Ruben’s youngest brother. He also looked thin. He said he weight 51 kilograms with height 163 cm. He said he has never been ill while in jail. He’s still a single.
• Jordan Saija is also one of the 28 dancers. He’s married with one daughter and two sons: Mey; Elfis and Freddy. They have never visited him as it is very far and expensive to travel from Aboru, Haruku Island, to Nusa Kambangan.
• Abner Litamahuputty joined an RMS flag raising ceremony ion April 25, 2007. His participation in the quiet ceremony was found out later when police found a video with him during the crackdown of the dancers. He got 12 years jail term. His wife, a civil servant, divorced him a few yeas after this 2007 trial. His prison term might end this year with prison reduction program. He has served two third of his imprisonment.
• Romanus Batseran is now 32 years old, was a chef in Ambon. He got 17 years jail term. He was involved in the April 25, 2007 flag ceremony. He got TBC in Nusa Kambangan for six months. He seems to be the thinnest of the six prisoners. He said he has a fiancée, waiting for his release.
• John Marcus was involved in the April 25, 2007 flag raising ceremony. He got 17 years jail term. He’s still a single.
There’s only one Moluccan prisoner in Batu prison: Johan Teterisa. He led the dancers in 2007 and got 15 years imprisonment. We met him an office space with four prison officials. They welcomed us plus Teterisa himself.
They basically informed us about the treatment that Teterisa had got after an Amnesty International protest on December 14, 2015. Teterisa showed us his two legs after his injection for “arteries sclerosis,” according to doctor Sudiro of the Batu prison. They said the sclerosis takes place because of old age. The officials said if Teterisa gets annual prison reduction, he might be released in January 2019.
Teterisa praised the prison treatment, saying that he gets no different treatment from other prisoners. He also praised the prison for providing him with a medical treatment in the Cilacap hospital without paying anything. He was pretty chatty, always praising the prison officials.
We felt uneasy. He became quiet when I asked him about his wife and three children. He said his wife never called him over the last six years. He lost contact. His children still call him.
The prison officials told us Batu prison has 261 inmates. It’s bigger than Kembang Kuning. Abu Bakar Bashir used to stay here but now he is in Pasir Putih prison.
Going Back to Jakarta
We returned to Cilacap at around 6.45pm, taking the prison boat –“kapal compreng”—to Tanjung Intan. We stayed one night in Cilacap, driving back to Jakarta on Friday, January 22. We reached Jakarta at around 7pm.
We agreed that these prisoners should at least be moved back to Ambon so that they could be closer to their families. It would be better if they’re released as they had committed no crime. President Jokowi should put more political capital to release these political prisoners. Separately, some prison guards told us that these Moluccans are well behaved. They will support efforts to release these political prisoners.
They also need lawyers. They have no legal assistance since their Ambon district court trial. Only Johan Teterisa is still represented by Johnson Panjaitan. The others have no lawyer. I suggests either LBH Semarang or LBH Jakarta to be their legal representatives.
All of these prisoners wanted selfie with Filep Karma. They thanked him for organizing the visit. Karma said he cannot promise their release but he will do his best to help them. (Andreas Harsono)