Launching of Filep Karma’s book ‘As if We’re half Half Animals.’

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President Joko Widodo must end all racism and discrimination in the Land of Papua, from impunity for human rights violators to restrictions on access for independent journalists to visit Papua, said publisher Deiyai.

Dr. Benny Giay, chair of the Deiyai publishing company, said that the racism and discrimination in question is highlighted by Filep Karma, a political prisoner in Abepura prison, in his book ‘As If we’re Half Animals: Indonesian Racism in the Land of Papua,’ launched today in Jayapura. It is 10 years to the day since Karma was jailed for a speech about the marginalisation of ethnic Melanesians in the Land of Papua on 1 December 2004.


“Filep Karma is stuck in jail. I represent him and call on the government of Indonesia to stop discrimination and racism towards those people with black skin and afro hair who are known as Papuans,” said Benny Giay.  

“For 10 years Filep has been in jail for talking peacefully about aspirations for Papuan independence (merdeka). What’s the difference here between Karma and Javanese people who want to destroy the constitution and introduce the Islamic Caliphate? I hope that President Jokowi is aware that Filep must be freed.”

This book is the result of interviews with Filep Karma conducted over two years. The interviews took place in jail and in the hospital while he was being treated. Karma has checked the whole transcript, helped with data and research, communicated back and forth with the Deiyai editorial team, and approved the final text. The book consists of five parts, including the story of his early years in Wamena and Jayapura, the Bloody Biak incident, and his criticisms of the struggle for Papuan independence (Papua Merdeka).

Click here for FREE DOWNLOAD of the complete book in Bahasa Indonesia.

Karma tells the story of how the Indonesian military and police violated human rights during various operations. The perpetrators remain ‘above the law,’ including in the case of the 6 July 1998 Biak massacre when hundreds of Papuan were arrested, beaten and their corpses thrown into the sea. Karma also tells the story of children born of rape by Indonesian soldiers.

He states that from the Act of Free Choice in 1969 until today, via the “noken system” – approved by the Constitutional Court – Papuans are still not afforded the right of one person one vote. Independent journalists and human rights organisations are also restricted from entering Papua since 1963. This is different from what happens to journalists wanting to enter Padang or Makassar. This is discrimination, in the sense that Papua is treated differently from other provinces in Indonesia.

Karma also speaks personally of the time when he studied in Solo during the 1990s, when he was often called an “ape,” and people would hold their noses when Papuans came near them. This was not only in Java but also in Papua, where immigrants now live everywhere, from Sorong to Merauke, from Wamena to Paniai. Karma notes that Papuans are seen as “half animals.” He became aware of these issues when he studied in Manila, Philippines, and returned to Papua in May 1998 with a new consciousness.

Karma was jailed after his speech about the ethnic marginalisation of Papuans when the Morning Star flag was raised at Abepura field on 1 December 2004. He was arrested, tried for treason and sentenced to 15 years in jail by the Abepura court. He lost his appeals to both the High Court in Papua and the Supreme Court in Jakarta. He then appealed to the United Nations in New York with pro-bono legal assistance from Freedom Now in Washington DC.

In November 2011, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in New York decided that Indonesia’s courts had not provided a fair trial for Karma. The treason articles in the Criminal Code were interpreted in a disproportionate fashion. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on Indonesia to free Karma “unconditionally and immediately.” The administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has never responded to the UN ruling.

“Filep Karma has been in jail for 10 years now. I guess the main impact here is on the consciousness of the Papuan nation. He has consistently and peacefully struggled for truth. He has no power, no organisation, he has no followers. He knows that his nation is weak. He has only his consistency,” said Giay.  

“In Papua, many people can be bought… with money, positions, titles and promises. But Filep Karma refuses to be bought. He shows that the Papuan people have their dignity,” says Giay.

James Elmslie, a professor from Sydney University who wrote the book ‘Irian Jaya Under the Gun: Indonesian Economic Development versus West Papuan Nationalism,’ wrote the preface to Karma’s book. According to Elmslie, “The title of this book is a powerful statement which explains 52 years of mistreatment under Indonesia. Until today, West Papuans have been treated like ‘half-animals’ throughout the country, from Jayapura to Wamena in the Central Highlands.”

Elmslie once lived for several years in Papua. He says that Karma’s book gives a new perspective so that the reader can understand the real treatment of West Papua by Indonesia. “Filep Karma explains that the cruel treatment of Indonesia towards Papuan people is based on endemic racism.”

Seven people have endorsed the book including Carmel Budiardjo, founder of the organisation TAPOL in London, and Imam Shofwanof Yayasan Pantau in Jakarta. Eben Kirksey, anthropologist and author of the book ‘Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power,’ praises Karma as “… the bravest leader in West Papua. He fights violence with non-violent tactics, in the style of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.”

Benny Giay also reminds us that Filep Karma, not to mention over 60 other political prisoners in Papua must be released. “Presiden BJ Habibie and Abdurrahman Wahid did it. They are remembered as good men by the Papuan people,” explained Giay. He trusts that President Jokowi is also a noble man. He asks Jokowi, who plans to spend Christmas in Papua, to also free Papuan political prisoners.