June 18, 2015

Washington, D.C.: Today, six members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry raising the continued detention of peaceful activists in Indonesia. The initiative was led by Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Chairs, Congressmen Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and James P. McGovern (D-MA). Congressmen Trent Franks (R-AZ), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Randy Hultgren (R-IL), and Juan Vargas (D-CA), all members the Commission’s Executive Committee, also joined the letter. The letter notes with significant concern the imprisonment of Mr. Filep Karma, a peaceful Papuan activist who has been detained since 2004 on treason charges for organizing a protest and raising the banned Papuan Morning Star flag. In May 2011, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for Mr. Karma’s release, opining that Mr. Karma’s trial fell far below international standards and that his imprisonment resulted from the peaceful exercise of his fundamental rights – including the right to freedom of expression.

In the letter the Commission members note that, “the imprisonment of peaceful activists on treason charges is an unfortunate echo of Indonesia’s pre-democratic past. President Widodo now has the power to move his country firmly into the community of stable, rights respecting democracies. We are encouraged by his public commitment to hear the grievances of Papuans and open the region to international journalists and observers.” The letter called for the immediate amnesty of all political prisoners, including Mr. Karma, and called for the immediate rehabilitation of all Indonesians imprisoned for peacefully exercising fundamental civil and political rights.

Mr. Karma, 55, is a prominent Papuan political activist and former Indonesian civil servant. He is married and has two daughters. He is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for raising a banned flag at a political rally celebrating the anniversary of the 1961 Papuan declaration of independence from Dutch rule. He is presently detained in a prison in Abepura in Papua and has suffered from ill health. He has been denied crucial medical attention, including necessary prostate surgery for nearly a year.

Maran Turner, Executive Director of Freedom Now, applauds this initiative by members of the Lantos Commission. “We welcome President Widodo’s previous promises to address lingering human rights violations in the region and this important affirmation by members of the Commission that such abuses must be remedied. Until Mr. Karma is released, the international community will continue to press the Government of Indonesia to do the right thing.”