Skip to content

West Papua Report Sept 2015: Filep Karma, Theys Eluay’s Killer Gen. Hartomo Promoted, Koperaoka, Threats to Journalists, Air Safety

September 10, 2015

West Papua Report
September 2015

Link to this issue:


This edition’s Perspective provides background on the widely-respected West Papuan political prisoner Filep Karma.

In the " Update" section, the prospects for President Joko Widodo to fulfill his promise to release political prisoner releases. General Hartomo who was convicted for his part in the killing of Papuan leader Theys Eluay has been promoted. Indonesian military personnel killed two and wounded more in Timika. Religious leaders and the Indonesian Human Rights Commission are among those demanding justice. Papuans Behind Bars reports on growing threats to human rights defenders in Wamena. A proposal by senior Widodo administration officials to tighten restrictions on journalists was aborted, but policy regarding journalist freedoms remains unclear notwithstanding a May pledge by President Widodo to loosen restrictions. Vanuatu reiterates support for West Papua as the Pacific Islands Forum prepares to meet. Jakarta has admitted inadequate support for air traffic in West Papua, in the wake of a costly air crash there.

In Chronicle the report highlights to a commentary by Pastor Neles Tebay who underscores the importance of communications among Papuans in addressing issues confronting Papuans. The leader of the Muslim community in Tolikara has emphasized the role of customary law in addressing the violence in that community in July. An excerpt from a forthcoming book describes the West Papuan campaign for MSG membership.

Link to this issue:

Filep Karma in Limbo
by Claudia Vandermade

Filep Karma, 56, is the elder spokesman in the Papuan struggle for human rights. He is currently in the midst of negotiations over his possible release from Abepura Prison, where he is in his eleventh of a fifteen year sentence for treason. Filep Karma is married with two adult daughters. He recently become a grandfather.

His activism emerged from a life of privilege and comfort in Biak. His father was a senior public servant under the Dutch and also held office after Indonesia took control of the area. Karma led a life that is remarkably different from the average Papuan with access to resources, higher education and political connections. People visiting the family from abroad only need to ask a taxi driver to take them to the Karma villa; no further address is necessary.

Though his activism began in the 1990s, his first major confrontation with Indonesian authority occurred on July 2, 1998 when he led a pro-independence rally in Biak. The demonstrators raised the Morning Star flag, a symbol of culture and independence for the Papuan people which is considered illegal under Indonesian law. Though never acknowledged by the Indonesian government, the military response to this demonstration was brutal. Approximately 200 Papuans, including children, were killed with scores of others tortured and raped. Karma was shot and arrested, and was sentenced to six and half years in prison.

Possible Release?

He was released from prison in 2000 after an appeal against his sentence, and ended up serving two years. His current prison sentence stems from his 2004 arrest for peacefully raising the Morning Star flag at an independence rally of several hundred people in Abepura. During his time in prison, Karma has been beaten by guards and has suffered ill-health due to the denial of urgent medical care.

Since his arrest, Karma has been offered and refused clemency a number of times because he insists that raising a flag at a peaceful ceremony is not a crime. He also insists on an unconditional release. The latest offer came in August 2015 with great fanfare. As possible release dates have come and gone, it is apparent that freeing Karma is a complicated process for both the government in Jakarta and for Karma himself. Karma recently told Fairfax Media:

"My point is that Indonesia must realise that it must free me unconditionally, restore my good name. It should also free other political prisoners in Papua and elsewhere in Indonesia and stop chasing those who are on wanted list for expressing their freedom of speech."

The question remains, if Karma were to receive release and then immediately raise the Morning Star Flag, would the government arrest him again?

Political Prisoners in Indonesia

Dozens of political prisoners in both Papua and the Moluccas have been convicted of makar (rebellion or treason), for peacefully raising flags. The sentences are usually 10 years, though Karma and others received longer 15 year sentences. These political prisoners have been tortured and abused throughout their arrests and incarceration.

Karma’s insistence on an unconditional release places the current President of Indonesia, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, in a difficult position. He has said that he seeks to improve human rights conditions in Papua by expanding access to foreign media as well as releasing political prisoners. Earlier this summer Indonesia’s House of Representatives rejected the President’s plan to release up to 90 political prisoners. As an inexperienced president, Jokowi does not have the political standing or mandate to defy the DPR and unconditionally release Karma and the others.

A Leader of Political Prisoners

Since his arrest, Karma has gradually become the face of political prisoners in Papua. Many human rights organizations have led campaigns for his release. Over the past 11 years, Indonesian government officials have received tens of thousands of letters, emails, and petitions on Karma’s behalf.

As a testament to his character, Karma has consistently responded to efforts on his behalf by reminding his defenders that many people in Papua are suffering the same treatment and prison sentences in the name of free speech. From the time he entered prison, he has aligned his fate with the scores of other Papuan political prisoners. Karma was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.

The recent maneuvering regarding Karma’s status is about much more than his freedom. The discussion can only be fruitful if he and others are guaranteed freedom of speech and expression that are now outlawed by the Indonesian government.

Claudia Vandermade is a human rights activist based in the Washington, DC area.

Filep Karma’s Testifies Before Biak Massacre Citizens Tribunal

Join ETAN, Sign-up Today!


Future for Papuan Political Prisoners Uncertain

Whether prominent Papuan political prisoner Filep Karma will be released from prison after a decade of incarceration remains uncertain. Karma has
rejected release under terms proposed by Jakarta insofar as those terms would entail acknowledging guilt. (See Perspective above for more on Karma.)

Karma’s decision, based on principle, has influenced other political prisoners offered similar terms for release in connection with the Indonesian August 17 National Day remissions and reductions of sentences.

President Widodo has proposed amnesty for Papuan political prisoners to the Parliament but parliamentarians in Commission I (which oversees defense and foreign affairs) were unwilling to approve the proposal absent a "road map" that would address the myriad problems associated with West Papua and Indonesia’s continuing occupation. Parliament’s Commission III (responsible for legal affairs, human rights and security) have yet to deliberate on the amnesty proposal.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: