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'As if We're Half Animals' Filep Karma on repression, racism and resistance

30 November, 2014

Today on the 10th anniversary of his incarceration, political prisoner Filep Karma publishes his new book ‘As If We’re Half Animals,’ a powerful and damning account of repression, racism and resistance. Through the book we learn about Karma’s childhood, his upbringing, and the development of his political consciousness in an environment where violence and brutality was part of the backdrop.

Despite spending the last decade in prison for treason, the loss of his liberty has done nothing to dent Karma’s values. Arrested after leading the 1 December 2004 events in Biak, the publication of this book ten years later is a clear message to the Indonesian authorities: not only does Karma hold no regret for his act of peaceful resistance in raising the Morning Star flag on that day; he would happily do it again tomorrow. As Jim Elmslie comments in his compelling introduction to the book, Karma is a living symbol that “however much a person is made to suffer, there are some ideals that are worth more than life itself.” He goes on, “It’s a story as old as humanity: good people standing up to injustice with truth their main weapon.”

While Karma is undoubtedly Papua’s best-known political prisoner, he is by no means alone. According to Papuans Behind Bars, there are currently 69 political prisoners in jails across Papua. Far from being distant history, the violence and discrimination described by Karma are echoed in the stories of many of these prisoners. The racist taunts of ‘monkey,’ the public torture and humiliation and daily acts of discrimination are entrenched in almost every aspect of daily life.

In communicating with us through this book, Karma faces a very real risk of beatings, isolation and torture; these are frequent punishments for Papuan political prisoners who step out of line. He also takes perhaps an even greater risk. From a position of physical vulnerability he has extended an invitation to Indonesia. It is impossible to right the wrongs of the past, to undo all the individual acts of hurt, small and large, which have affected every Papuan person for the last 50 years. This history cannot be altered. The only choice left for Indonesia is to acknowledge this deeply painful history, and to open the door for a conversation which is now 50 years overdue.