Papuan Prisoner Joins Elite Company

Papuan Prisoner Joins Elite Company

, 22 November 2010


By: Nivell Rayda


A prominent international human rights group has agreed to advocate for the release of Filep Samuel Karma, a Papuan political prisoner who was jailed in 2005 for raising the banned Morning Star flag.

Washington-based Freedom Now said Filep, 51, would become one of just 13 political prisoners around the world it was currently campaigning for, joining the likes of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo. The organization was also known for working for the release of Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Freedom Now will represent Mr. Filep Karma with the aim to secure the release of Mr. Karma from detention,” Freedom Now’s executive director, Maran Turner, wrote in an e-mail to Filep’s mother, Eklefina Noriwari.

Cynthia Warwe, one of Filep’s closest friends, said the e-mail arrived last week and Eklefina immediately signed a contract to formalize the deal.

The e-mail did not specify why the group wanted to represent Filep, but its Web site says that the group considers Filep to be a prisoner of conscience.

“I’m glad they want to defend my rights at an international level,” Filep told the Jakarta Globe during a telephone interview from inside Abepura Prison in Jayapura.

“It is truly an honor for me to join the lineup of renowned human rights figures on Freedom Now’s short list of clients.

“Freedom Now made it very clear that I cannot engage in or advocate the use of violence, which I never have and never will do.

“There are a lot of political prisoners in Papua — all equally deserving to be released by the Indonesian government. I wish Freedom Now could advocate for their release too.”

On Dec. 1, 2004, Filep organized a peaceful demonstration in Abepura, where the banned Morning Star flag was raised. Filep was subsequently sentenced in May 2005 to 15 years in jail for treason and stoking unrest.

Human Rights Watch has said there has been a long history of suppressing peaceful activism in Papua, with nonviolent protesters regularly being arrested and occasionally suffering abuse.

Chandran Lestyono, a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, said Indonesia would not bow to international pressure by releasing prisoners.

“Only the president has the executive power to pardon a prisoner,” he said. “If what the prisoner wants is unconditional release, then he should file a case review to the Supreme Court.”


Freedom House page on Filep Karma

Freedom House


Filep Samuel Karma

Mr. Filep Samuel Karma, 51, is a prominent Papuan political activist and former Indonesian civil servant who is serving a fifteen-year prison sentence for raising a banned flag at a 2004 political rally. He is married and has two daughters.

Mr. Karma was arrested in December 2004 for organizing and participating in a ceremony at Trikora Field in Abepura, Paupa, at which several hundred Papuans gathered to raise the Papuan Morning Star flag and celebrate the anniversary of the 1961 Papuan declaration of independence from Dutch rule. Although Mr. Karma has explicitly denounced the use of violence, he was arrested and charged with treason. He was sentenced in May 2005 to fifteen years in prison. His wrongful arrest, detention, and trial violate Indonesian law and Indonesian obligations under international law.

Mr. Karma was previously the victim of wrongful arrest and detention on similar charges in 1998. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 1999 condemned the imprisonment of Indonesian citizens for such expressive activity, singling out flag-raising in particular. The Working Group also specifically referred to Mr. Karma’s detention as “arbitrary” under international human rights law.

Mr. Karma is currently detained in a prison in Abepura in Papua and has suffered from ill health. He was denied necessary medical attention and was denied needed prostate surgery for nearly a year.

Numerous organizations have cited Mr. Karma’s wrongful detention, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which has designated Mr. Karma a prisoner of conscience. In addition, numerous members of the U.S. Congress have called for his release, and the U.S. State Department has cited Mr. Karma’s status as a political prisoner.