West Papua: Activist jailed for defying occupiers

December 1, 2013
Filep Karma.

Filep Karma is a 54-year-old West Papuan independence activist and long-term political prisoner. He is in jail for his non-violent political activities in the struggle for West Papuan self-determination.

In 2004, Karma organised a Morning Star flag-raising ceremony to celebrate the anniversary of the Papuan declaration of independence from Dutch rule in 1961.

This led to Indonesian authorities, which occupy West Papua, sentencing Karma to 15 years in jail for treason. Indonesia has declared West Papua's Morning Star flag illegal. Those Papuans daring to raise it are subject to arrest, beatings and even death.

Karma was born in the town of Biak, the main urban centre and district capital on the island of the same name, off the north coast of West Papua.

West Papuans have suffered under military repression for decades. However, the repression of Biak was notable for the scale and nature of Indonesia's killings of the locals.

In the 1990s, Karma became involved in the Papuan freedom struggle. On July 2, 1998, he led a pro-independence rally in Biak where they raised the Papuan Morning Star flag on a water tower.

Initially, about 75 protesters gathered beneath it. But as the demonstration continued, more people joined in. Some sources reported up to 1000 people took part.

The demonstrators demanded an end to military repression, respect for human rights and for Papuan self-determination. On July 6, after three days of the flag flying, the Indonesian military violently attacked the crowd. Soldiers fired on the crowd, killing 24 according to some sources.

Some people who fled the scene to nearby houses to hide were shot there. About 100 people were reportedly wounded.

More than 200 people were arrested. Later, 139 of these detainees were transferred to the two Indonesian warships in the harbour where they were tortured and raped. Many were killed and their bodies thrown into the sea.

During the next few weeks, the mutilated bodies of 35 men, women and children washed up on the island’s beaches, many with their hands tied behind their backs. More bodies washed up on Biak’s shores or were caught in fishing nets over time.

Human Rights Watch said that eventually 70 bodies washed up. The corpses were taken away by the Indonesian security forces.

Though an exact death toll is unknown, it is believed about 200 West Papuans were killed and many others injured in these waves of repression. The Indonesian militarily, however, claims only one protester died. The events became known as the Biak Massacre.

United States anthropologist Eben Kirksey, who was in Biak at the time, reported seeing trucks laden with dead bodies. He also saw Karma shot in the legs and detained.

Little detailed information has come out about this event, due to suppression by Indonesian authorities. But the then political counsellor at the US Embassy in Jakarta Ed McWilliams, who visited Biak a few days after the massacre, believes the death toll to be in the hundreds.

Karma was shot with rubber bullets in both legs and arrested. He was later sentenced to six-and-a-half years in jail for taking part in the protest rally and the flag-raising incident. He was released in 2000, after a successful appeal against his sentence.

In 2004, Karma took part in another flag-raising ceremony. About 200 demonstrators peacefully assembled and raised the Morning Star flag in Jayapura, on the anniversary of the Papuan declaration of freedom from the Dutch colonialist administration. The Indonesian police attacked the protest and tried to pull down the flag.

Clashes broke out and people in the crowd were shot and beaten. Karma and several others were arrested. For this action, Karma was sentenced in 2005 to 15 years in jail.

Audryne Karma, his daughter, said: “I am saddened and disappointed at the government for the severe punishment imposed on my father …

“To date there are more than 70 political prisoners in Papua. Like my father, they voice their political aspirations peacefully, without violence …

“I implore [Indonesian] President SBY to instruct the government to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners in Papua.”

Amnesty International considers Karma a prisoner of conscience because of his non-violent human rights actions. Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and East Timor and Indonesia Network have actively campaigned for his release.

In August 2008, 40 members of the US Congress sent a letter to Indonesia calling for Karma's release.

Freedom Now executive director Maran Turner said: “The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found Indonesia’s actions a clear violation of international law.

“Mr Karma is a non-violent advocate who was arrested for his views and convicted in a trial marred by judicial bias, denial of appeal without reason and intimidation tactics.”

Indonesia’s detention of Karma violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty that Indonesia is bound by, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

While in prison, Karma has been regularly subjected to abuse and denied medical treatment.

Karma is a symbol of his long suffering people’s hopes for a brighter future, in an independent and free West Papua. The campaign for his freedom is essential to raising awareness and campaigning for justice for the all Papuan people.

[Visit www.etan.org for more information on the campaign for Filep Karma. Sign ETAN's petition here.]

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