Fikri Harish, Jakarta – A coalition of Papuan activists has formed a team to investigate the death of West Papuan independence activist Filep Karma, who was found dead on Base G Beach, Jayapura, on Tuesday morning.
"We've coordinated with other Papuan organizations, family and legal counsel to conduct an independent investigation into [the death of] Filep Karma," said Papuan Customary Council (DAP) head Dominggus Surabut on Wednesday, according to the Jubi news portal.
On Tuesday, Karma's family described his death as a diving accident based on preliminary examination.
"My father's death is purely accidental and not because of a disaster or murder," said daughter of Filep Karma, Andrefina Karma, to a crowd of well-wishers at a funeral home in Dok V, Jayapura. She said witnesses had seen Filep heading out for a dive at the same beach on Sunday wearing the same diving gear he was later found in.
The family has declined to have an autopsy performed on Filep's body. Andrefina's statement corroborated a report from Jayapura Police chief Sr. Comr. Victor Mackbon. "A team of doctors from Bhayangkara Hospital has conducted an external examination, and there were no signs of bruising on his body," said Victor, as quoted by Antara news agency.
But Dominggus argued that given the prominence of Filep among Papuans and his status as one of the most prominent West Papuan independence activists, the cause of his death should not be decided from external examinations alone.
"We need a more thorough investigation to find the definitive cause of death," said Dominggus.
Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid echoed Dominggus' plea. "We urge law enforcement and human rights agencies to thoroughly investigate this case and find the definitive cause of death," said Usman in a statement released on Tuesday.
He said that as many Papuan activists had been targets of violence, it was important to investigate if any possible criminal acts or human rights violations were involved in Filep's death. "His struggle inspired many, including the younger generation, to be more honest in voicing the truth. His death is a huge loss," said Usman.
As reports of his death began to surface, various tributes from fellow activists also began flooding in, hailing Filep's staunch belief in non-violent activism.
"Filep stood for justice, democracy, for peace and non-violent resistance," said United Liberation Movement for West Papua chair Benny Wenda. "For West Papuans, Filep was equivalent to Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.
The history of our struggle lived within him." Senior journalist Andreas Harsono, who is currently a researcher for Human Rights Watch, also paid tribute to Filep. "Karma's humor, integrity and moral courage was an inspiration to many people. His death is a huge loss, not only for Papuans, but for many people across Indonesia who have lost a human rights hero," said Andreas in a statement.
Born in 1959, Filep had been active in campaigning for Papuan independence since the 90s. In July 1998, he organized a flag-raising ceremony on Biak Island, where he hoisted the Morning Star flag, commonly used as a symbol of Papuan independence.
The protest ended in a violent clash with the military and Filep was imprisoned until 1999 for his role. In 2004, Filep organized another flag-raising ceremony, which resulted in him being sentenced to 15 years in prison for treason.
After serving 11 years of his sentence, Filep was granted an early release by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo in 2015 as part of a compromise over Papuan political prisoners. "This clemency is part of a wider reconciliation framework for establishing a peaceful Papua," said Jokowi at the time.