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Human rights campaigner Filep Karma, the most famous West Papuan former political prisoner, was found dead early today on a beach in the Melanesian region’s capital Jayapura.

His death has shocked Papuans and the grassroots activist communities in Indonesia and around the Pacific.

“It is true that a body was found by a resident on the beach at Bse G, suspected to be Filep Karma, but to be sure, the police are still waiting for confirmation from his family,” North Jayapura police chief Police Adjunct Commissioner Yahya Rumra told Antara News.

The head of the Papuan Human Rights Commission, Frist Ramandey, confirmed Karma’s body had been found on the beach, reports CNN Indonesia.

However, he said his group was still investigating the circumstances of Karma’s death.

“He was a father figure for West Papuans and respected by many Indonesian people. He was gentle, loving, courageous, and full of wisdom,” said human rights lawyer Veronica Koman in a tweet.

“Grassroots are shaken.”

‘I’m crushed beyond words’
In a later tweet, she added: “We first met when I visited him in prison. We would spend days and days together when he visited Jakarta or I visited Jayapura.

“He laid the foundation of how I, as an Indonesian, view West Papua. He called me ‘child’ and I called him ‘father’.

“I’m crushed beyond words.”

The Indonesian police investigation site at the Jayapura beach where Filep Karma's body was found today
The Indonesian police investigation site at the Jayapura beach where Filep Karma’s body was found today. Image: Tabloid Jubi

Filep Karma, 67, led the raising of the Morning Star flag of independence — banned by Indonesian authorities — in Biak in 1998 and was eventually imprisoned.

He was released two years later.

In 2004, he again carried out a similar act and was accused of “treason”.

On that occasion he was jailed for 15 years but released in 2015.

Papuans Behind Bars website said Filep Karma was “undoubtedly the best-known political prisoner in West Papua”.

“Sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for the act of simply raising a flag . . . his release on 19 November 2015 was widely celebrated among Papuan civil society.”

The son of a prominent local politician, originally from Biak island, Karma studied political science in Java before working as a civil servant in Papua.


Indonesian police investigators at the beach scene in Jayapura where the body of Filep Karma was recovered today.  Video: Jack Caryota

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