Global Freedom of Expression

The Case of Filep Karma

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Non-verbal Expression
  • Date of Decision
    October 27, 2005
  • Outcome
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Indonesia, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    Supreme (court of final appeal)
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests, National Security, Political Expression

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

On May 26, 2005, the Indonesian government convicted and sentenced Filep Semuel Karma, an activist for independence of West Papua, to 15 years imprisonment for his alleged role of organizing a rally commemorating the declaration of Papuan independence, during which the Morning Star flag of Papua was raised. He was charged with conspiracy to rebel and the commission of rebellion against Indonesia under Articles 106 and 110 of the Criminal Code, as well as the charge of “publicly stating hostility, feelings of hate or offense toward the government of the Republic of Indonesia” under Article 154.

After a decade of imprisonment, Karma was released on November 19, 2015.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify official legal and government records on the case and information on the case was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.


Filep Jacob Samuel Karma has been an active advocate for independency of West Papua form Indonesia. On December 1, 2004, he helped to organize a rally to commemorate the 1962 declaration of Papuan independence. The rally took place in Abepura, Papua Province and was attended by hundreds of students. During the event, the Morning Star flag was raised with participants shouting “Freedom.” According to a commentary by Human Rights Watch, Article 6 of Government Regulation 77/2007 prohibits “the display of the Morning Star flag in Papua, as well as the South Maluku Republic flag in Ambon, and the Crescent Moon flag in Aceh, other areas with separatist movements.” After forcing to end the ceremony, Indonesian police arrested Karma along with at least 20 other participants.

On December 2, 2004, Karma was charged with: “conspiracy to rebel with the intent to cause disintegration of the Republic of Indonesia and to cause social unrest” under Article 110(1) of the Indonesian Criminal Code; “undertaking or giving of orders or participation in the act of [r]ebellion with the intention of causing disintegration or separation of the Republic of Indonesia” under Articles 106 and Article 55 (1) of the Criminal Code, and “publicly stating hostility, feelings of hate or offense toward the government of the Republic of Indonesia” under Article 154 of the Criminal Code.


Decision Overview

The prosecutor alleged that Karma along with Yusak Pakage, a student activist, held a meeting with a group of 20 people prior to the rally. The prosecutor’s witnesses testified that Karma had agreed at the meeting “to take full responsibility for the entire event including prayers, speeches, entertainment, and the Morning Star flag-raising ceremony.”

The defense lawyer argued that the prosecutor failed to prove or substantiate that Karma held the meeting and that he had planned to separate Papua from Indonesia. The evidence also indicated that Karma had informed the local police about the rally in advance. Furthermore, appearing before the court on April 19, 2005, Karma stated that the act of flag raising was a spontaneous act of participants and he was not personally aware that it was going to occur.

The defense also challenged the impartiality of the proceedings based on inflammatory statements expressed by a presiding judge. For example, during the April 19th hearing, the judge uttered to Karma “Don’t bring the name of your God in here, your God has been dead a long time.”

On May 26, 2005, Karma was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. He was also fined 5,000 Rupiah and was stripped of his public servant status.

The court’s explanation of its severe sentence was that Karma had been convicted on a similar matter in 1988, for which he was sentenced to 6-year imprisonment. The court also stated that Karma had a “hostile attitude” toward the Indonesian government with the intention of separating and destroying its regional integrity and causing social unrest. It added that Karma never showed remorse for his actions.

October 27, 2005, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision.

On August 17, 2015, Karma was set to be released as his sentence was reduced due to his good behavior. However, he refused to leave the prison, saying that he would not accept any remission because he was not a criminal. “I am in jail because I expressed my aspirations peacefully, I flew the Papuan flag and I demanded Papuan independence in a peaceful way. I even asked for a permit to police before staging my peaceful protest, ” said Karma.

On November 19, 2015, Karma was finally released from prison.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

The arrest, criminal conviction coupled with severe jail sentence infringed Karma’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Indo., The Government Regulation 77/2007, art. 6

    Article 6 of the regulation prohibits display of flags or symbols that have the same features as “organizations, groups, institutions or separatist movements.”

  • Indo., Crim. Code, art. 154

    “Publicly stating hostility, feelings of hate or offense toward the government of the Republic of Indonesia.”

  • Indo., Crim. Code, art. 110 (1)
  • Indo., Crim. Code, art. 106
  • Indo., Crim. Code, art. 55 (1)

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the lower court on October 27, 2005.

Official Case Documents

Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:

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