Papua’s most well-known pro-independence prisoner, Filep Karma, is serving 15 years in jail for rebellion. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience.
In a rare interview with a local radio station, obtained by the BBC, he claimed he had suffered physical and mental abuse while in jail. Filep Karma led hundreds of Papuan students in cries of “independence!” during a demonstration in the provincial capital in 2004. They then raised the banned Morning Star flag – the symbol of free Papua – in full view of military policemen. For this act of defiance he was jailed for 15 years for rebellion. Mr Karma says he was exercising his right to protest.
“They terrorised us in a nation that is meant to be a democracy, a nation where freedom of speech is meant to be protected,” he said.
Foreign journalists are restricted from reporting in Papua, and the International Committee of the Red Cross was ordered out of the province last year after it visited political prisoners.In this rare interview conducted by a local radio station without the permission of the authorities, Mr Karma claims to have been regularly abused in jail.
“I have been punched, kicked, pulled. But what hurts more is the mental torture we are subjected to,” he said. “An officer once told me, when you enter here you lose all your rights, including human rights. Your rights are only to breathe and eat. He even went as far as to say that your life is in my hands.”
A fellow political prisoner being held in the same jail, Ferdinard Package, says he lost sight in one eye after a beating from one of the prison guards. The head of the Papuan branch of the Ministry for Law and Human Rights, Nasarudin Bunsan, confirmed the beating took place.
Mr Bunsan said they had a problem with guards who got drunk and then beat the prisoners. He said they were trying to stop the practice and three prison guards were currently facing police charges for abuse.
The government recently pardoned and released one Papuan political prisoner. Karma has been made the same offer as long as he apologises to the state, something he says he will never do.
“I predict by 2020 our people will be completely extinct,” he said. “So our people must rise up. We must fight for independence or be destroyed.”
Papua is rich in natural resources and is the home of the world’s largest gold mine, partly owned by the US company Freeport. Yet Papua remains one of the least developed provinces in Indonesia.