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Thousands mourn death of West Papua independence activist Filep Karma Global Voices Français

Filep Karma file photo shared by Indonesian human rights researcher Andreas Harsono, used with permission

Thousands of people joined the funeral procession in honor of beloved West Papua independence activist Filep Karma, who was found dead on a beach in Jayapura on November 1. He was 63 years old. Police say Karma died on a diving trip, but local activists are demanding a independent investigation.

Karma is part of the self-determination movement in West Papua, which is currently a province of Indonesia.

karma was stopped in July 1998 for staging a protest on Biak Island by raising the West Papua Morning Star flag, a banned symbol of independence. He was released after 18 months in prison.

He was arrested again in December 2004 for raising the banned flag and sentenced to 15 years in prison for treason. He was released in November 2015 after years of sustained global campaigning calling for his freedom.

Scholar David Robie summarizes the tributes for Karma, which is largely considered as “Father of the Papuan Nation”. Karma was “seen as the only leader capable of bringing together dissident factions seeking self-determination and independence,” Robie wrote.

Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, wrote about Karma activism after his release from prison:

After his release, Karma adopted a broader program of political activism. He talked about human rights and environmental protection. He campaigned for minority rights. He organized aid to the families of political prisoners.

Karma’s humor, integrity and moral courage have inspired many people. His death is a huge loss, not just for Papuans, but for many across Indonesia who have lost a human rights hero.

Benny Wenda, exiled leader of the West Papua United Liberation Movement, highlighted the heroic role of Karma in the struggle for independence:

…a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and the longest serving peacemaker in an Indonesian prison. But he was above all a frontline leader, present at each demonstration, reassuring and inspiring all the West Papuans who marched or prayed with him.

For West Papuans, Filep was equivalent to Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King. The story of our struggle lived in him.

For me, as for all West Papuans, Filep’s fight continues. His legacy and his dream of freedom live on in the next generation, who face the same systematic discrimination and fight for the same goal.

Wenda also blamed the police for trying to to block Karma’s funeral procession:

How would Indonesians feel if the funeral procession of their national hero was disrupted and despised in this way? This response demonstrates the endemic racism at the heart of the Indonesian occupation. Filep has spent his life fighting.

Veronica Koman, human rights lawyer wrote that Karma “was the face and guardian of the nonviolent independence movement. He also made his people not to hate the Indonesian people but to fight against the colonial system.

She posted several tweets document the funeral procession where mourners carried the forbidden morning star flags in honor of Karma.

Karma’s family said they do not believe there was foul play involved in his death.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International in Indonesia is among the groups calling for an investigation. Local activists wanted to know the timeline and circumstances that led to Karma’s death as they doubt the supposed diving accident. They were demanding to know the person or persons who accompanied Karma to the beach.

Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera