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Indonesian gets life for waving separatist flag in front of president

ICC Note:

The leader of a largely Christian separatist group in eastern Indonesia, along with at least 19 others, was arrested for a nonviolent flag-waving demonstration. The members received between 10 and 20 years in prison, and the leader has been sentenced to life, revealing the country’s extreme sensitivities and intolerance.

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4/4/08 Indonesia (AP) A court has sentenced the leader of a separatist group in eastern Indonesia to life in prison for waving the flag of a mostly Christian secessionist movement in front of the President last year.

At court official said at least 19 others were convicted of treason and sentenced to between 10 and 20 years over the flag-waving demonstration, which was nonviolent.

The harshness of the punishments shows Indonesia’s extreme sensitivity to separatist movements in the sprawling archipelago and will likely trigger criticism by rights activists.

The group itself — a tiny outfit known by the Indonesian acronym RMS — has little support. It does not believe in violence, and analysts say it poses no threat to central government control of the region.

Court spokesman Amin Syafrudin said the leader of the separatist group, Johan Teterisa, was sentenced to life imprisonment Thursday in the provincial capital Ambon after being found guilty of treason.

State news agency Antara reported Mr. Teterisa cried when the sentence was handed down.

Another 19 members of the group have been convicted on treason charges over the last two months, said Mr. Syafrudin on Friday. The trials have received little attention in the national media.

Indonesia is overwhelmingly Muslim, but Christians form the majority in parts of Maluku and other eastern regions.

An overwhelming majority of Christians in the province insist they do not want a separate state.

Indonesia, which has some 18,000 islands and scores of ethnic groups, is battling separatists in Papua province. In 2005, the government reached a deal with secessionists in Aceh province, ending a war that had killed 15,000 people.

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