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Papuan rebel leader walks free after 11 years

  • Nethy Dharma Somba, Ina Parlina and Fedina S. Sundaryani

    The Jakarta Post

Jayapura/Jakarta | Fri, November 20, 2015 | 03:14 pm
Papuan rebel leader walks free after 11 years Walk free: Papuan pro-independence activist Filep Karma (center) walks out of the Abepura penitentiary in Jayapura on Thursday. Filep, who was sentenced in 2004 to 15 years in prison for raising the banned “Morning Star” flag at a pro-independence rally, was released after being granted a series of remissions.(JP/Nethy Dharma Somba) (center) walks out of the Abepura penitentiary in Jayapura on Thursday. Filep, who was sentenced in 2004 to 15 years in prison for raising the banned “Morning Star” flag at a pro-independence rally, was released after being granted a series of remissions.(JP/Nethy Dharma Somba)

Walk free: Papuan pro-independence activist Filep Karma (center) walks out of the Abepura penitentiary in Jayapura on Thursday. Filep, who was sentenced in 2004 to 15 years in prison for raising the banned '€œMorning Star'€ flag at a pro-independence rally, was released after being granted a series of remissions.(JP/Nethy Dharma Somba)

After 11 years behind bars, Papuan pro-independence leader Filep Jacob Semuel Karma, 56, was released on Thursday from prison by the government, a move applauded by democracy activists as a promising step toward resolving problems in one of the country'€™s least-developed regions.

In 2004, the Jayapura District Court sentenced Filep to 15 years in prison for treason after he led a ceremony to hoist the Bintang Kejora (Morning Star) flag at an independence rally in Trikora Square in Abepura, Jayapura, on Dec. 1 that year.

A cultural symbol of the region, the flag is also associated with the Free Papua Movement (OPM), which campaigns for Papua to be independent of Indonesia.

Following the rally, Filep and Yusak Pakage, another pro-independence activist, were immediately arrested and brought to trial; Yusak, convicted of the same crime, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Filep was eligible to walk free after receiving combined remissions of 50 months.

His release on Thursday was officiated through the signing of a document of release by Abepura Penitentiary chief warden Bagus Kurniawan and Filep'€™s son-in-law Abraham Bonay and lawyer Olga Hamadi.

Filep, however, refused to leave his finger prints on his photograph and in the prison'€™s registration book.

Olga said that Filep had the right not to leave his fingerprints, adding that she had received the official notice of Filep'€™s release on Wednesday.

Filep, meanwhile, refused to comment further, saying that he would talk to the press next week.

'€œI haven'€™t got any plan ahead after my release, which has come suddenly. I was forced to leave, just like I was forced to be in [prison],'€ Filep said, while waiting for his release documents to be finalized.

Outside Abepura Penitentiary, dozens of supporters of the Free Papua National Committee (KNPB) repeatedly cried pro-independence slogans as Filep emerged.

The situation remained peaceable, though hundreds of police personnel were deployed to guard the city'€™s Ekspo Waena compound, where Filep joined a thanksgiving prayer for the seventh anniversary of the KNPB shortly after his release.

Meanwhile in Jakarta, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said that no special security measure had been put in place in Papua following Filep'€™s release. '€œThe security we have now is security for all,'€ he said.

The central government has long been accused of being solely interested in Papua'€™s rich natural resources, with little regard for its people.

Separately, Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) chairman Haris Azhar called Filep'€™s early release a '€œdemocratic inevitability'€, adding that Filep should never have been imprisoned for exercising his right to freedom of expression. He cautioned, however, that Filep'€™s release was just one small step toward resolving Papua'€™s many problems.

'€œWhile the release is commendable, Papua still has many problems that need to be resolved with concrete action from the government,'€ he said.

Pastor Neles Tebay, the coordinator of the Papua Peaceful Network, meanwhile, saw Filep'€™s release as a signal from President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo'€™s administration that the long-standing conflicts in Papua would be resolved peacefully.

International Civilians of Strengthening (ICS) Papua director Yusak Reba, meanwhile, said that Filep'€™s release would not silence Free Papua supporters.

'€œThey will continue their struggle for freedom, in defiance of Indonesian law,'€ he said.

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