Indonesia's control over the province of Papua has been disputed since 1963, when the country took control of the province from the Dutch. A separatist movement formed, battling the Indonesian government for more than four decades. During this time, one sixth of the province's population died in military operations. Papuans also cite economic issues, stating that the area's natural resources are exploited exclusively for the benefit of the national capital, Jakarta.
Buchtar studied engineering in Makassar, South Sulawesi. In 2008, he organized the International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP), an organization devoted to repealing the Act of Free Choice, the 1969 referendum that had given Indonesia sovereignty over West Papua.
He was arrested on 3 December 2008, in his house in Sentani, near Jayapura, for organizing an 16 October protest supporting the launch of IPWP in the UK Parliament. The following day, fifty protesters gathered outside the Jayapura police station to call for his release.
Prosecutors sought a ten-year sentence against him on three charges: an act of treason (Article 106), provocation (Article 160), and acts against the state (Article 212). Buchtar's attorneys described the case as an attempt to stifle free speech in Papua, asking, "If outside Papua, people can freely raise their opinions, why is free speech still restrained in Papua, and treated as treason?" Amnesty International considered him to be a prisoner of conscience, "imprisoned solely for peacefully expressing [his] views". Human Rights Watch also lobbied for his release along with that of other non-violent Papuan political prisoners.
In January 2011, Amnesty reported that Buchtar and fellow Papuan activist Filep Karma had been transferred from the Abepura prison to isolation cells at the Jayapura police station and were at risk of torture. Buchtar was released from prison on 17 August 2011.
On 8 June 2012, Buchtar was arrested again in Jayapura on charges of organizing violent protests. On 23 July, another activist, Yusak Pakage, was arrested during Buchtar's trial for having a penknife in his bag. Pakage was charged with "possession of a weapon", which carries a maximum sentence of ten years' imprisonment.
- "Protester killed at independence rally in Papua". Associated Press. 9 August 2008. Retrieved 2 September 2012. (subscription required)
- "Rights Groups Protest in Washington to Demand Release of Papuan Activists". Jakarta Globe. 2 December 2009. Archived from the original on 3 September 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
- Nethy Dharma Somba and Dian Kuswandini (21 October 2008). "Papuan separatist leader arrested". The Jakarta Post. Archived from the original on 2 September 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
- Human Rights Watch. 2010. Prosecuting political aspiration: Indonesia's political prisoners.
- "Papuan activists storm police headquarters". The Jakarta Post. 4 December 2008. Archived from the original on 2 September 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
- Angela Flassy (18 June 2009). "10 years sought for independence activist". The Jakarta Post. Archived from the original on 2 September 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
- "Prisoner of Conscience at Risk of Torture". Amnesty International. 12 January 2011. Archived from the original on 2 September 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
- "Release Papuan prisoners: HRW". The Jakarta Post. 13 December 2010. Archived from the original on 2 September 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
- West Papua Media Alerts. 2011. Buchtar Tabuni released from prison.
- Nethy Dharma Somba and Bagus BT Saragih (15 June 2012). "Riots in Jayapura as police shoot dead Papuan activist". The Jakarta Post. Archived from the original on 2 September 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
- "Concerns Papuan prisoner is denied access to medical treatment". Radio New Zealand International. 26 August 2012. Archived from the original on 2 September 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012.