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Johan Teterissa (born c. 1961) is an Indonesian elementary school teacher, activist and member of the Republic of the South Moluccas, or RMS, a small separatist group which advocates independence for the southern Maluku islands from Indonesia. Teterissa was sentenced to life in prison for treason in April 2008 after leading a nonviolent protest against Indonesian rule in 2007. Teterissa, and a group of 19 traditional Moluccan dancers, unfurled a secessionist flag of the banned South Moluccan Republic in front of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on June 29, 2007, in Ambon, the capital of Maluku.[2][3] Amnesty International designated him a prisoner of conscience.[4]

Background of RMS

The RMS is an separatist group which was formed during the 1950s. The RMS is a mainly Christian. The RMS is also known as the Republik Maluku Selatan, South Moluccan Republic or the South Maluku Republic, depending on the translation.

The Moluccas, which were once known as the Spice Islands, are now commonly known by their Indonesian name, Maluku.[2] The islands are located approximately 1,400 miles (2,300 km) east of the national capital of Jakarta.[2] The Moluccas, who are populated by roughly even numbers of Christians and Muslims, were plagued by inter-religious violence between the two groups from 1999 to 2002.[2] Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country, though Christians form the a majority of the population in some eastern areas of the country,[5] such as Maluku,[5] West Papua, Flores and parts of Sulawesi.

The RMS was formed in the 1950s following Indonesia's independence from the Netherlands. It is known by its Indonesian acronym, RMS, which stands for Republik Maluku Selatan.[5] The RMS were made up predominantly of Moluccan Christians, but included some Muslim members within its ranks.[6]

The group declared an independent country, known as the Republic of the South Moluccas, or Republik Maluku Selatan (RMS), April 25, 1950.[7] The RMS was soon defeated by the Indonesian military, and its leadership formed a government in exile in the Netherlands, the former colonial ruler of Indonesia and the Moluccas. The RMS has kept a relatively low profile since the 1970s, when it was blamed for a series of terrorist attacks within the Netherlands,[2] including the 1975 Dutch train hostage crisis in Wijster.

The RMS was largely forgotten in both Indonesia and worldwide until the eruption of violence between Christians and Muslims throughout the Moluccas in 1999.[5] The violence between the two religious groups, which spread across many of the islands, killed over 9,000 people and displaced thousands more.[5][8] The Muslim side of the conflict took to calling their Christian opponents "separatists," which gave legitimacy to their cause among Indonesia's mostly Muslim leadership and media.[5] The sectarian violence largely ended after 2002, but conflict continues to flare up sporadically.[8] Moluccan nationalism is stronger today because of the many Muslim immigrants from Celebes.

Analysts say that the RMS poses little threat to the territorial integrity of Indonesia and presently has little support among the Moluccan population.[5] The RMS, which is much diminished from its height in the 1950s, has continued to wage a low-key, mostly nonviolent independence movement against the government, which include small nonviolent demonstrations such as the incident in which Teterissa convicted for treason.[3]

The government of Indonesia regards all separatist movements, large and small, as a potential threat to national unity.[5]

2007 Ambon protest

Teterissa is reported to have first joined the RMS in 2002 in his home village of Aboru, which is located in Central Maluku.[3] Teterissa, who is an elementary school teacher by profession, had been arrested and given a lenient sentence in the past for a similar flag waving demonstration in 2003.[3]

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had arrived in Ambon, the capital of Maluku province, on June 29, 2007, to preside over an official ceremony marking National Family Day.[3] A group of RMS protesters, led by Teterisa, peacefully disrupted the ceremony while President Yudhoyono was attending the event. The group of nineteen men, who were led by Teterisa, performed a traditional Moluccan war dance and then unfurled the secessionist flag of the banned South Moluccan Republic (RMS).[2] Teterisa and the other protesters were immediately arrested.

Presidential aides to Yudhoyono described the President as "livid" over the flag waving protest.[8] The Indonesian military and government blamed the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) for not anticipating a possible protest at the ceremony.[8] The incident was considered to be a major embarrassment to the government of Indonesia. The protests prompted the government to remove and replace the Maluku provincial military and police chiefs.[2]


Johan Teterisa was convicted of "plotting against the state"[9] and sentenced to life in prison on April 3, 2008 in the provincial capital city of Ambon by the Ambon District Court.[3][5] Teterissa's life sentence is the maximum punishment for treason allowed under Indonesia's Criminal Code.[3] Teterissa, who was 46 years old at the time of his sentencing, was reported to have broken down and cried as the guilty verdict and life sentence was handed down, according to Antara, Indonesia's state run news service.[3] Teterisa told the Ambon judges that he had acted on the orders of Simon Saiya, the leader of the RMS who is wanted by Indonesian authorities.[7]Karma, Filep (June 28, 2016). "Indonesia – An activist's account of his dedication to peaceful protest" [12] . Amnesty International. In their sentencing the judges told Teterissa that he had "embarrassed the people of Indonesia in the eyes of the world."[9] They also told Teterissa that, as leader of the protest, his sentence was particularly harsh because he had shown no remorse for his actions.[9]

Teterissa's life sentence for treason is believed to show the government of Indonesia's extreme sensitivity to separatist movements across the country,[6][10] which consists of a sprawling archipelago of nearly 18,000 islands.[5]

Indonesian court official Amin Syafrudin said that another 19 RSM activists had been convicted of treason chargers and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years for their part in the June 2007 protests.[5] They included Abraham Saiya, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail on April 3, 2008 for participating in the flag-waving demonstration.[9] Four other Moluccan separatists were given similar prison sentences in March 2008 for displaying or possessing the RMS flag, which is banned in Indonesia.[1]

Human rights activists condemned Teterissa's life sentence for a nonviolent protest as excessive. Antonius Sujata, a former Indonesian deputy attorney general, called Teterissa's punishment, "emotional, political and nonsense." [3] Sujata also told the media that, "The man only waved a flag and did not try to harm the President."[3]

Asmara Nababan, who is the former secretary-general of the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights told the media that the judges overreacted to the incident in their sentencing, as Teterissa's protest was nonviolent. "The judges should have deemed his action more as a political aspiration than a life-threatening act. He only waved an RMS flag, and did not carry a weapon."[3]

Critics also pointed out that no separatists who took up arms against the government from two of Indonesia's more well known independence movements, Aceh and Papua, have been sentenced as harshly as Teterissa, who performed a nonviolent act.[3] Many Papuan secessionists have avoided prosecution by handing over their weapons to government authorities.[3] A number of Acehnese fighters were released as part of a peace agreement in 2005.[3]


Amnesty International reported that in June 2012, Teterissa and other prisoners lacked access to clean drinking water. The following month, he was transferred to Batu Prison on Nusakambangan Island due to overcrowding. Upon his arrival, guards reportedly used electric cables to whip his back, causing Amnesty to issue an alert on Teterissa's behalf.[11]

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