The West Papuan political prisoner Filep Karma says his personal preference is that the leader for his people's self-determination movement be based within West Papua.
The nobel peace prize nominee is currently serving a 15-year jail sentence in Abepura prison in Indonesia's Papua province for charges related to raising the Papuan nationalist Morning Star Flag.
Karma has given the Indonesian president Joko Widodo credit for several good initiatives in Papua, but says the republic's military generals are the ones who are holding back a solution in West Papua by pursuing their own agenda.
He spoke to Dutch journalist Rohan Radheya who has been in Papua several times in the past two years to hear Papuan voices often silenced by Indonesian media restrictions.
ROHAN RADHEYA: You have been in prison for several years. Tell us about the conditions in prison. Did you ever get beaten during your time in prison?
FILEP KARMA: Yes…. I remember the first time I was beaten. There was a boy who just came fresh into the prison. Persons who come in fresh are an easy prey for mistreatment by the guards. They have to wait an long time for trials and till then often remain unregistrated. The guards didn't properly register him and his penalty. One guard searched the boy's pocket and found 30 thousand Indonesian rupiah. He took the money. I objected and received my first beating. This happened a couple of times more. At an certain stage the beatings became normal to me. After the beatings I sent testimonial-reports to human rights organisations. The organisations such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch pressurised the Indonesian Government and this reached the prison.
ROHAN RADHEYA: Does this still happen?
FILEP KARMA: No not to me anymore, because they became afraid of my status. I also learned to deal with it. Like this morning...They usually open the doors to the garden around 6.30. Today they didnt open it. It made me angry. But if i showed my anger, i would gave them an excuse to beat me. I just controlled my anger. Thats how I get by.
ROHAN RADHEYA: What about the others?
FILEP KARMA: This still happens regularly to the new arrivals who are often political activists. They are often not properly registered and their penalty noted. Thus they are an easy prey for mistreatment in the prison. After court its usually becomes better.
ROHAN RADHEYA: The ULMWP [United Liberation Movement for West Papua] received observer status during the recent MSG [Melanesian Spearhead Group] meeting although they applied for full membership. At the same time Indonesia applied and received associate membership at the objection from many International critics, that Indonesia is Asian not Melanesian. Why is Indonesia so eager to be an part of the MSG? What are their tactics behind this?
FILEP KARMA: I believe that Indonesia tried to become an member to block West Papuan independence. An full-member recognition by the MSG could have been a start for other countries to start recognizing West Papuan rights for self governance.
ROHAN RADHEYA: Were you worried about this?
FILEP KARMA: No I was optimistic
ROHAN RADHEYA: There are many internal differences between West Papuan factions. Who is the proper faction and leader to guide West Papua at present?
FILEP KARMA: I believe thats upto the West Papuan people.
ROHAN RADHEYA: You have armed elements in the Free West Papua movements such as the TPN-OPM. Do you believe the West Papuan independence struggle can be solved peacefully or do you believe that an armed struggle will persist in the future?
FILEP KARMA: I think its important for all of us to sit down and talk from the heart without holding anything back. I do believe our independence struggle can be solved peacefully if there is willingness from both sides. Personally i dont believe in an armed uprising but an non violent one.
ROHAN RADHEYA: Is it appropriate to have leadership inside West Papua? Will a leader outside West Papua be tolerated by West Papuans?
FILEP KARMA: I believe that the leader should be based within West Papua among the people.
In this way he can maintain structure and host an dialogue and thus appease all sides. [NB West Papua has over 200 different tribes]
ROHAN RADHEYA: A leader in West Papua would be an easy prey for assassination or imprisonment like They Eluays.
FILEP KARMA: Thats the risk an leader takes upon him. If someone decides to be an leader, it's a part of the job He doesnt run away from that risk.
ROHAN RADHEYA: The new president Joko Widodo has shown several good initiatives the last months. He released 5 political prisoners and announced to lift an ban on foreign media. How do you feel about this?
FILEP KARMA: I dont believe it. I do believe Mr Widodo has an good heart and will to do good to West Papua but i believe its not on him. I've witnessed his predecessor Yudhoyono. He as well passed out some major reforms to West Papua at some stage. But on the ground in Papua they were never executed. The high ranking generals in Papua and parliament refused to cooperate and execute orders. They all had their own agenda's and interests in Papua.
ROHAN RADHEYA: So what you are saying is that their is an division between the army and Jakarta?
FILEP KARMA: Yes several parliamentarians and generals within the TNI feel that the army has an sovereignty over the people and state. They feel that they own Indonesia. They dont care about civil society, they just care about power. All my life I've never heard of a high ranking General being sentenced on corruption charges or power abuse. Never.
ROHAN RADHEYA: So corruption is an big barrier in the independence struggle?
FILEP KARMA: (Laughs) Like the Anti-Corruption Commission for instance. They have authority to monitor anyone in society but not in the army. Thats why I dont believe Mr. Jokowi's orders will be executed on the ground here. At least not at this stage. It will first require intensive internal reforms and Jokowi should be firm and determinated.to bring real change.
ROHAN RADHEYA: You have been in prison for several years. What is your motivation to keep going on in pursuit of the independence struggle?
FILEP KARMA: I feel that as an fellow Papuan I have an duty to speak out when I see or hear about Papuans being killed or locked up for baseless reasons such as by pursuing basic human principles such as democracy and human rights. Today there are some very horrifying an unforgivable things happening in West Papua. To name something - the military has repeatedly used rape as an weapon in Papua to spread fear and intimidation. These things are systematic and they affect us as an people. These kind of things remind me why I'm fighting. It gives me fire to continue. But always through an peaceful way.
ROHAN RADHEYA: What message do you want to send to the international community?
FILEP KARMA: I would like to stress to the international community that many Western governments have investments in West Papua. West Papua is rich in natural resources. Indonesia is not the owner of this land. The owners of this land are the West Papuan people. The 1969 referendum was not held fair. The voters were uneducated and misled and some of their families were even held at gunpoint. I sincerely hope that they will consider this twice. Furthermore I hope that Western people will push their governments to take a tougher stand against Indonesia to end the occupation of West Papua and stealing its resources. If Western governments have interests in Papuas resources, they are welcomed. They should come and sit down with the Papuan people and discuss their interests with them. Not with the Indonesian government. The Indonesian government is not the owner of this land. Indonesia is the invader. West Papua belongs to West Papuans.
ROHAN RADHEYA: Mr. Karma Thank you for your time.