People in over 80 countries in every region of the world have come together to demand the release of Indonesian prisoner of conscience Filep Karma, who is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for taking part in a peaceful ceremony where a Papuan regional flag was raised.
Filep Karma, 52, is one of the individuals Amnesty International supporters across the globe have chosen for the Write for Rights campaign, one of the largest letter writing campaigns ever undertaken. Hundreds of thousands of people have been writing letters, signing petitions, sending SMS messages and taking action online since 3 December to demand justice for Filep Karma and 13 other cases from a range of countries including Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, USA and Zimbabwe.
At least 90 prisoners of conscience are currently imprisoned for peaceful political protests or possessing, raising or waving the prohibited regional flags of Maluku and Papua. Amnesty International calls on the Indonesian government to immediately and unconditionally release Filep Karma and all other prisoners of conscience in Indonesia, and to repeal, or at least re-interpret "makar" provisions to stop the imprisonment of non- violent political activists.
"Amnesty International was founded on the idea that people united can shine a light on injustice and create momentum for change," said Donna Guest, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Deputy Director.
"Hundreds of thousands of people from across the world are sending a clear message to the Indonesian government that they must uphold the right to free speech and immediately and unconditionally release Filep Karma and all other prisoners who are solely imprisoned for having peacefully expressed their views."
Filep Karma, a former civil servant, was one of 200 people who took part in a peaceful ceremony in Abepura, Papua province, on 1 December 2004. Police responded to the raising of the banned "Morning Star" flag by firing warning shots and beating people with batons. Filep Karma was arrested at the site of the ceremony. Police reportedly beat him on the way to the police station. He was subsequently charged with "makar" ("rebellion"), which prescribes punishments of life imprisonment or a maximum of 20 years' imprisonment. On 26 May 2005, Filep Karma was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment.
Amnesty International takes no position whatsoever on the political status of any province of Indonesia, including calls for independence. However the organisation believes that the right to freedom of expression includes the right to peacefully advocate referendums, independence or any other political solutions that do not involve incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
The prohibited regional flags are first and foremost symbols for peaceful pro-independence or pro-autonomy movements in Indonesia and often simply reflect local communities' identities. They do not feature any "violent" logo or message in themselves, nor do they symbolize or imply violence. Thus the mere act of raising them is not a "violent" or "disruptive" act but a peaceful act.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Indonesia is a state party, and the Indonesian Constitution guarantee the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, association and peaceful assembly. While the Indonesian government has the duty and the right to maintain public order, it must ensure that any restrictions to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly are no more than is permitted under international human rights law.