A high-profile West Papuan dissident leader has been released from prison after more than a decade behind bars for raising a flag.
Political prisoner Filep Karma walked free from jail in Papua, Indonesia last week, after spending 15 years in prison —charged with treason — for raising the banned West Papuan independence flag.
According to a Survival International article, Karma, 56, was arrested in 2004 after leading a peaceful demonstration in West Papua, calling for independence from Indonesia and raising the “Morning Star flag.”
He was named by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience. His detention was condemned as “arbitrary” by the United Nations.
In August this year when the government of Indonesia offered him a pardon in exchange for admission of guilt.
Amnesty International wrote, Karma refused because he felt it would give legitimacy to his arrest, which he felt had no basis in law. In a statement refusing a pardon he wrote, “I will only accept an unconditional release… I did not commit any crime when I raised the Morning Star flag in 2004.”
The government eventually reduced his sentence for ‘good behaviour’ so that he could be released.
However, raising the Morning Star flag remains an imprisonable offence in West Papua and responding to the news of Karma’s release, Indonesia’s chief of National Police, Gen. Badrodin Hait said, “If you say he’s a political prisoner, I say [Filep was] a criminal.”
The release of Karma came as Indonesian President Joko Widodo once again pledged to improve livelihoods in the region. But there is little evidence that the security force’s brutal repression of Papuans is over. At the end of September there were at least 45 Papuan political prisoners behind bars and political assassinations, fatal shootings, arbitrary arrests and torture, at the hands of the security services, remain rife.