Leading Papuan Independence Activist Filep Karma died allegedly in a diving accident

Filep Karma, one of the most prominent pro-independence West Papuan activists was found dead on 1 November 2022 at 7 am on a beach in Jayapura city. Initially, the police confirmed that a body has been found by a resident on the beach at Base G and identification was pending. Later on, Filep Karma’s family confirmed that the body belongs to Filep and that he drowned in a diving accident. Reportedly, Filep had been on a diving trip with his brother-in-law and nephew, who left the trip earlier. Filep stayed and went diving alone after the others left. The results of the post-mortem showed that Filep died from drowning while diving. His daughter said she followed the post-mortem process and it was determined that her father died in an accident. Still, the manner of his death and the fact that he was a skilled diver have sparked speculation and calls for a full, independent and detailed investigation.

Filep Karma was born on 14 August 1959 in Jayapura and was raised in a politically active family. In 1998 he was imprisoned after organizing a protest on Biak Island that called for Papuan independence and involved the raising of the Morning Star flag. He was released in 1999. But he was again arrested in 2004 after helping organise a ceremony in Jayapura to mark the anniversary of Papua’s independence from the Dutch. This time, the authorities tried and sentenced Filep to 15 years in prison for treason. He was released in 2015 and since then he had embraced a wider agenda of peaceful advocacy and political activism. He has spoken about human rights and environmental protection, campaigned for the rights of minorities, and organised help for political prisoners’ families. He was a famous pro-independence leader, who advocated for non-violence in achieving that goal. He briefly became a political prisoner again in 2018 when he was arbitrarily detained and verbally abused at Jakarta’s International Airport for wearing a shirt with the Morning Star symbol.

Filep Karma was just one of many activists targeted under articles 106 and 110 of the Indonesian Criminal Code, which cover crimes against the security of the state and impose life imprisonment as a maximum punishment for treason. Peaceful protesters advocating independence or other peaceful political change are often prosecuted by Indonesian authorities using these legal provisions.

Thousands of people are mourning the passing of Filep Karma, as was seen on the streets of Jayapura on 1 November when his body was transported out of the Police Hospital where the post-mortem process took place. An in-depth investigation into his death is necessary because many activists speaking out about Papua are targets of violence and Filep was a renowned non-violent pro-independence campaigner. His death is a huge loss, not only for Papuans but for many people who have lost a human rights icon.