Thousands mourn death of West Papua independence activist Filep Karma

File photo of Filep Karma released by Indonesian human rights investigator Andreas Harsono. Used with permission.

Thousands joined the funeral procession honoring beloved West Papuan independence activist Filep Karma, who was found dead at Jayapura beach on November 1. Police say Karma died during a diving trip, but local activists are calling for a independent investigation.

Karma is part of the self-determination movement for West Papua, which is currently a province of Indonesia. It was arrested in July 1998 for organizing a protest on Biak Island while raising a West Papuan flag, a prohibited symbol of independence. He was released after 18 months in jail.

He was arrested again in December 2004 for raising the same banned flag and was sentenced to 15 years in prison on treason charges. He was released in November 2015 after years of global campaigns demanding his release.

“When West Papua is free, I want my name to be erased from the history of West Papuans’ struggle. This is so that my children or grandchildren do not use my name to obtain positions or recognition. – Filep Karma.

Academic David Robie summed up the tributes to Karma, widely considered as the “father of the Papuan nation”. Karma was believed to be “the only leader who could unite the divided factions seeking self-determination and independence,” Robie wrote.

Andreas Harsono, Indonesian researcher for Human Rights Watch, wrote about Karma’s activism after his release from jail:

After his release, Karma embraced a broader agenda of political activism. He spoke about human rights and environmental protection. He campaigned for the rights of minorities. He organized help for political prisoners’ families.

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

Upon his release from jail, Karma embraced a broader agenda of political activism. He spoke of human rights and environmental protection, campaigned for the rights of minorities and organized support for the families of political prisoners.

His humor, integrity, and moral courage was an inspiration to many. His death is a huge loss, not only for Papuans, but also for thousands of people in Indonesia who lost a hero fighting for human rights.

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

…a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and the longest serving peace advocate in an Indonesian jail. But he was first of all a frontline leader, present at every single protest, reassuring and inspiring all West Papuans who marched or prayed with him.

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

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

…nobel for a Nobel Peace Prize and the longest serving peace advocate in an Indonesian jail. But above all, he was a frontline leader, present at every single protest and reassuring and inspiring every West Papuan who marched or prayed with him.

For Western Papuans, Filep was the equivalent of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. The history of our struggle lived in him.

For me, as for all Western Papuans, Filep’s struggle continues. His legacy and his dream of freedom will live on in the next generation that suffers the same systematic discrimination and fights for the same goal.

In addition, Wenda criticized the Police when he tried to block Karma’s funeral procession:

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

How would Indonesians feel if their national hero’s funeral procession was broken into and he was disrespected in this way? These actions demonstrate the endemic racism at the heart of the Indonesian occupation that Filep spent his life fighting against.

Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman wrote that Karma “was the face and protector of the peaceful movement for independence. He also led his people not to hate Indonesians, but to fight against the colonial system ».

Koman posted several tweets in which documented the funeral procession of Karma, in which his mourning followers carried the banned flag in his honour.

Thousands chant “Papua: Freedom” and other cries for freedom during Filep Karma’s funeral procession.

Karma’s family have said they believe her death was merely accidental.

However, Amnesty International in Indonesia is among the groups that ask for an investigation deeper. local activists they want to know the chronology of the events and the circumstances that led to Karma’s death, since they doubt that it occurred due to an accident while diving. They have claimed to know about the person or people who accompanied Karma to the beach.

Spontaneous action at Bhayangkara Hospital, people demand investigation into Filep Karma’s death.
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Peaceful protest outside the Bhayangkara Police Hospital in Jayapura demanding a full investigation into the death of Filep Karma.

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Thousands mourn death of West Papua independence activist Filep Karma