Filep Karma reveals Widodo’s unkept promise to free all Papuan tapols

CNN Indonesia – June 13, 2020
Former Papuan political prisoner Filep Karma – Undated (CNN)

Jakarta – Former Papuan political prisoner Filep Karma says that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo promised to release all Papuan political prisoners during his administration. Widodo made this pledge, said Karma, to five of his fellow political prisoners in Jayapura, Papua, who were release in 2015.

“When the Bapak [Mr] president released my five friends from prison in Jayapura, he told them, this is reconciliation and I will free all political prisoners”, said Karma as quoted on the UK human rights group Tapol’s YouTube account on Friday June 12.

Now however, he said, the number of Papuan political prisoners has instead grown to 46 who are to this day still incarcerated in jail.

Karma said that he has personally made a request for their release with Justice and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly. At the time, Karma asked Laoly to release four Papuan political prisoners who were incarcerated at the Nusa Kambangan penitentiary.

“He said that he would try to get them transferred from Nusa Kambangan to Ambon [North Maluku] and try to get them released. But to this day the four are still in prison”, he said.

Karma related how in Papua, a person can be arrested if they express their wishes. They will be taken by the police to jail, detained and sentenced for years and years.

This, he said, began to improve when the international community put pressure on Indonesia and provided support to his group. Later on however, Karma suspects that Indonesia has returned to handing out long sentences to Papuan political prisoners.

Voicing an opinion without suffering violence is not an easy thing for a Papua person to do, he said. He claims to have once submitted a request for a permit to police to hold a Kamisan (Thursday) action in Papua, but it was rejected by the police.

In February, seven Papuans were arrested and charged with makar (treason, subversion, rebellion), namely Hengki Hilapok, Alexsander Gobai, Steven Itlay, Bucthar Tabuni, Irwanus Uropmabi, Fery Kombo and Agus Kossay.

All of them are being tried at the Balikpapan District Court in East Kalimantan on charges related to their alleged involvement in riots in Papua in late 2019.

In September 2015, President Widodo visited the Abepura Penitentiary in Kamkey, Kota Baru sub-district, Abepura.

There, he personally presented a letter of agreement granting clemency to five Papuan political prisoners. The five political prisoners who were released were Apotnalogolik Lokobal (sentenced to 20 years in prison), Numbungga Telenggen (life imprisonment), Kimanus Wenda (19 years in prison), Linus Hiluka (19 years) and Jefrai Murib (life imprisonment).

“On this day we have released five people, this is a whole-hearted effort by the government in the context of ending the stigma of conflict that exists in Papua”, said Widodo in his greetings as quoted in a release by the Cabinet Secretariat.

The president asserted that the clemency was an initial step in developing Papua without conflict.

“This is an initial [step], later after this it will be followed up by giving clemency or amnesty to other [prisoners] because there are around 90 people who are still in prison. Once again this is an initial start to the release [of prisoners]”, explained Widodo.


A human rights lawyer in Jayapura, Anum Siregar, believes that the government is discriminative and takes a different position towards Papuan people and other Indonesian citizens.

He believes that Papuans are easily arrested and charged with makar just because they fly the Morning Star independence flag or voice their views. In one such case, those who were arrested were investigated without a lawyer and beaten.

“Meanwhile in Jakarta, people who talk about overthrowing the government, creating a new parliament, a new country, are still not tried. There is discrimination between what happens in Papua and Jakarta”, he said.

Siregar said that the repressive actions by the government will only worsen the situation in Papua. By continuing to arrest and detain political prisoners, he said, the government will instead create a greater desire for Papuan independence. (fey/age)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Filep Karma Ungkap Janji Presiden Bebaskan Tapol Papua”.]