Filep Karma, a prominent Papuan independence activist and a former longtime Indonesian political prisoner, was found dead on a beach in Jayapura on Tuesday after apparently drowning while on a diving trip, police said. He was 63 years old.
Police and Filep’s family said they had no reason to believe his death was the result of foul play. Filep had been released from an Indonesian prison in 2015 after serving nearly 11 years for raising the Papuan separatist movement’s Morning Star flag.
“I went through the post-mortem process and it was determined that my father had died of drowning while diving,” Filep’s daughter, Andrefina Karma, told reporters.
The body of the activist was found early Tuesday at Base-G Beach in North Jayapura district.
Filep had recently taken frequent diving trips to the area, his family and friends said. Last year he was found alive on Skouw beach, near the border with Papua New Guinea, after a current swept him away while diving.
Jayapura city police chief Victor Makbon said Filep’s body showed no signs of violence, but he would not comment on a potential cause of death.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Filep Karma. Please don’t speculate,” Victor told BenarNews.
Papua, on the western side of the island of New Guinea, has been the scene of a low-level separatist insurgency since the mainly Melanesian region was incorporated into Indonesia in a United Nations-administered ballot. United in the late 1960s.
In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua – like Indonesia, a former Dutch colony – and annexed the region.
Only about 1,000 people voted in the UN-sponsored referendum in 1969, which locals and activists called a sham. The UN accepted the vote, essentially endorsing Jakarta’s rule.
Mourners line the streets
On Tuesday, thousands of people filled the streets of Kotaraja in Jayapura to mourn Filep as his body was brought from Bhayangkara Police Hospital.
“We have come to pay respects to the deceased and escort him to his home,” said Domi Lani, a resident of Jayapura.
Markus Haluk, executive director of the West Papua United Liberation Movement, said Filep’s death was a great loss for the Papuan people.
“Filep Karma was one of those who persevered in the struggle for the liberation of Papua. His life was dedicated to the nation and people of Papua,” Haluk said. “He was even ready to live in prison for his fight for Papuan independence.”
Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International in Indonesia, called for an inquest into the death “because many activists who spoke out about Papua have become targets of violence.
“This is particularly in recognition of the work of the deceased in defending the human rights of indigenous Papuans,” he told BenarNews.
Taking another view, Beka Ulung Hapsara, a member of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), said Filep’s family said he died by drowning and their statement “should be respected”.
Advocate of non-violence
Filep, a former civil servant and son of former Wamena regent Andreas Karma, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after participating in the Morning Star flag raising on December 1, 2004.
He was released in November 2015 after rejecting a clemency offer from President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
“If I accepted it, it would mean that I admit my guilt. I expected to be released in 2019 because I refused all sentence reductions,” Filep told reporters at the time, while attributing his release to international pressure on the government over the treatment of political prisoners. .
“They forced me out of jail because I didn’t want to accept clemency,” he said.
Filep was tortured and subjected to other degrading treatment while incarcerated, including denial of access to proper medical care, according to Amnesty International.
Prior to the flag incident, Filep led what began as a peaceful rally in Biak in 1998 to demand a referendum on self-determination, but it ended in violence when police used force to dissolve protests. protesters.
At least eight Papuans have been killed, dozens injured and three missing, according to a 1999 investigation by the Papuan human rights group Elsham.
“I heard stories that people were asked to board an Indonesian navy ship. It was not known where they were taken. Later it was learned that mutilated bodies were dumped to the sea,” Filep told local media in 2020.