West Papua Independence Campaigner Questions Release From Prison

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Karma, who previously refused early release, forced to exit jail

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, Dec. 1, 2015) – The West Papuan independence campaigner Filep Karma has questioned the veracity of the process around his early release from prison last month.

Mr Karma, who was released after spending eleven years in prison for raising the banned Papuan Morning Star Flag, has promised to continue his peaceful campaign for West Papua independence.

However he said after being forced to go to jail under an unclear degree, charged with treason, he had now been forced to leave prison with similar "dubious" treatment.

Filep Karma previously refused government offers of an early release from his fifteen year jail term because he did not want to admit guilt for a crime he didn't commit.

In the end, Indonesian officials forced West Papua's leading political prisoner to leave Abepura Prison under an early remission directive.

In a statement, Mr Karma claimed he was given just an hour to leave prison, but accorded no opportunity to see the official government letter ordering his release, or the conditions around it.


The statement is timely as it comes as West Papuans today mark Flag Day, the 54th anniversary of when Morning Star flag was first raised in a Papuan proclamation of independence.

The flag was later banned by Jakarta after it assumed control of the former Dutch territory, and Indonesian authorities take a dim view of Papuans who raise the Morning Star Flag or voice any separatist sentiment.

Filep Karma is not the only Papuan who has been jailed for raising the flag, but his 15-year jail term is the harshest sentence to date.

In 2011, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said that Filep Karma's detention was arbitrary because he was imprisoned for the exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Indonesia's Political, Law and Security Minister, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, recently said Filep Karma was wrongly convicted of treason, or makar, which implies inciting armed revolt.

Filep Karma expected it would take time to adapt to being out of prison again after such a long time.

"The process of my exemption was very brutal," he said. "Even animals that are in captivity may need some time to adapt before being released into the wild. I had been imprisoned for eleven years, but I have not been given the time to adapt. Am I, a Papuan, was nothing more valuable than an animal?"

Since it came to power a year ago, Indonesia's government of President Joko Widodo has been making clear efforts to foster economic development in Papua.

But long-running injustices related to the conduct of security forces in the region, as well as the state programme of transmigration continue to marginalise Papuans in their homeland.

Ideology to "never die"

The independence leader accused the Indonesian government of seeking to destroy his credibility for the sake of Jakarta's image and authority.

"My current status, released from prison, wasn't the result of a good will or good policy of the Racist Colonial Government of Indonesia as stated by Paulus Waterpauw, Papua Police Chief whom I consider as an invader's servant in the Land of Papua."

Mr Karma suggested that Mr Waterpauw would better serve his responsibility as head policeman in Papua by seeking arrests of unidentified people and military personnel "who continuously kill Papuans rather than dealing with what I believe about the Papua liberation ideology".

He said that this ideology would never die.

The former Indonesian civil servant said that his freedom from prison had materialised because of growing international pressures against the government of Indonesia which he says "continues to commit crimes against humanity and human rights violations against it colony's people and against its own people".

RNZ International recently visited Filep Karma in Abepura prison, where he confirmed that he would continue to push for independence for West Papuans.

According to the online political prisoner database Papuans Behind Bars, 47 political prisoners are currently detained in West Papua.

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