Jakarta. A prominent Papuan separatist leader on Thursday walked out of prison a free man in Indonesia's easternmost province after serving over a decade behind bars for treason.
Filep Karma, 56, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2004 after flying the banned pro-independence "Morning Star" flag and leading hundreds of university students in an anti-government rally in Jayapura, Papua.
The United Nations called his detention "arbitrary," while Amnesty International designated him a prisoner of conscience.
Filep could have secured his freedom on Aug. 17, Indonesia's Independence Day, when the government offered him a pardon in exchange for an admission of guilt, said I Wayan Kusmiantha Dusak, director general of penitentiary at the Ministry of Legal and Human Rights.
The political prisoner remained defiant and refused, spurring the government to eventually grant him a sentence remission for good behavior, according to Human Rights Watch.
HRW researcher for Indonesia Andreas Harsono took to social media to welcome the release, tweeting that hundreds of Papuans and members of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) had greeted Filep outside the prison with tears and chants of joy.
The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), Indonesia's top human rights watchdog, hailed the move as a "democratic inevitability."
"[Filep] should not have been arrested over freedom of expression," Kontras coordinator Haris Azhar said in a statement obtained by the Jakarta Globe on Thursday.
The commission urged Filep to "continue voicing injustices taking place in Papua and speak of ways to solve them."
Kontras also called on the government to do more in protecting and advocating for political prisoners, while also resolving issues in Papua.
"The president must form a team to build a peaceful dialogue with Papuans and to quickly respond when there's violence, conflict and discrimination – which are often caused by security forces," said Haris.
Violent clashes over separatist movements or sectarian conflicts regularly take place on Indonesia's western half of New Guinea, which consists of two provinces, Papua and West Papua.