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Filep Karma is not enough, Indonesia must free all remaining political prisoners in West Papua, says MRG

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Wednesday 25 November 2015

The Indonesian government must unconditionally release all remaining political prisoners in West Papua, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) said following the release of prominent independence activist Filep Karma.

The West Papuan leader walked free last week after spending more than ten years behind bars for treason after raising a pro-independence flag at a peaceful protest in Jayapura in 2004. His release comes as President Joko Widodo has pledged to improve life for the indigenous population in West Papua, where security forces have committed myriad human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings during decades of low-intensity conflict.

Karma was originally due for release in August, but he refused to admit his guilt as demanded by the government. He was subsequently freed for ‘good behavior’ on November 19, meaning his original sentence still stands.

‘While we welcome the release of Filep Karma, the Indonesian government has failed to rectify the injustice of his original sentence. It is important to remember that Karma was jailed for staging a peaceful protest and should never have seen the inside of a cell in the first place,’ said Claire Thomas, Deputy Executive Director at MRG.

‘There is a danger that his release will be used as a fig leaf to gloss over ongoing abuses in West Papua and to divert attention from the dozens of other political prisoners incarcerated there for expressing their political views. Without an unconditional pardon for all political prisoners in West Papua, Karma’s release can only be seen as a token.’

President Widodo, who was elected into office last year on the promise of political reform and social change, has vowed to prioritize development and human rights in West Papua. In May, he formally lifted restrictions on foreign media visiting the region, which has been cut off from public scrutiny for decades. But crackdowns on non-violent demonstrators remain commonplace, with 35 West Papuans killed since July this year, according to monitoring groups.

‘President Joko Widodo has yet to promote meaningful dialogue on the underlying problems of indigenous rights and self-determination in West Papua,’ added Thomas. ‘The military continues to commit atrocities with impunity while the government happily looks away. We can only hope that Karma’s release marks a complete change in government policy towards West Papua in favour of free speech and human rights.’

Karma has vowed to continue his struggle for peace and self-determination in West Papua, which was annexed by Indonesia in 1961.

For more information, please contact:
Hanna Hindstrom, Asia Information Officer at MRG
E: hanna.hindstrom@mrgmail.org

Photo credit: S. Eben Kirksey/ Creative Commons License

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