Wed Jun 23, 2010
PAPUA, Indonesia (AP)– Filep Karma has served five years behind bars on a
15-year treason sentence for raising a banned flag in Indonesia's
easternmost Papua province. He says he's endured beatings by guards, and
now prison authorities are denying him medical treatment for a potentially
life-threatening prostate ailment.
His case — and those of several other high-profile prisoners of conscience
in far-flung separatist-torn regions — was highlighted in a 40-page report
released Wednesday by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
They include Buchtar Tabuni, serving three years for "inciting hatred" by
orchestrating an anti-government rally and Johan Teterisa, who was
initially sentenced to life for leading dancers who raised
pro-independence flags at a ceremony attended by President Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono. It was eventually dropped to 15 years on appeal.
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has made tremendous
strides toward democratization since emerging from decades of dictatorship
under Gen. Suharto in 1998. Citizens today can vote directly for president
and the country has been lauded for sweeping reforms that have freed the
media and vastly improved human rights.
But the government is highly sensitive to the separatist struggles in
Papua and the Molucca islands. They restrict visits by human rights
workers and journalists, and pro-independent activists have been given
lengthy prison terms for peacefully expressing their views, organizing
rallies or for simply raising separatist flags.
Phil Robertson, of New York-based Human Rights Watch, called the estimated
100 political prisoners in the two regions the "forgotten ones."
"What's happening to these political prisoners is frankly a stain on
Indonesia's otherwise improving rights record," he said, adding the kind
of broad charges leveled against activists, the failures of due process in
their trials, and the abuses they suffer in detention, "marks back to a
darker time ... when one man, Suharto, and his family ran Indonesia."
There was no immediate comment from the government concerning the report.
But Candran Listiyono, spokesman for the Directorate General of Prisons in
the capital, Jakarta, told The Associated Press he was not aware of any
mistreatment toward inmates and promised to investigate.
He said Karma, the 51-year-old former civil servant suffering from a
prostate gland condition, had permission to go to a hospital for medical
treatment — it was just a matter of timing.
"We haven't violated his rights in any way," he said. "He has food, water,
a room, and the right to go to a hospital, so there's no problem."
But Karma, who is one of the country's best-known political prisoners, had
a different story.
He led hundreds of students through the streets of Abepura in 2004
chanting "freedom" before joining a ceremony to raise the Morning Star
flag, a symbol of the banned Free Papua Movement. When authorities tried
to break up the demonstration, clashes broke out between protesters and
The father of two teenaged daughters was arrested immediately and
sentenced in 2005 to 15 years in prison for treason.
Karma told The AP by mobile phone from his cell in Abepura prison he
started complaining to friends about his prostate gland ailment in August
2009, but medics at the prison clinic said he just needed to drink more
water and rest. Since then, he has been examined by doctors from Jakarta
and elsewhere, who have repeatedly warned he needed surgery.
"My understanding is that if he doesn't get the medical treatment he
needs, basically his various organs are not going to function," said
"I'm still waiting," Karma added. "I badly need treatment. They don't have
the equipment they need here."
Karma also described brutal attacks by guards on others jailed for taking
part in anti-government rallies, the worst of which left his friend,
Ferdinand Pakage, blind in the right eye. Pakage is serving 15 years for
killing a government official during a protest, a crime he says he didn't