While we live in a country where there is a holiday that honors the American flag, it’s hard to imagine that in other countries it is considered a crime to raise a flag! Flag Day, which commemorates the adoption of the American flag, is celebrated in the United States on June 14th.
© MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images
It may seem silly that we have an entire day devoted to a rectangular piece of material, but the meaning of the flag runs deeper than that. The American flag is a representation of not only the freedom our country possesses as a whole, but also the freedom bestowed to each individual – a kind of freedom that is often denied in other parts of the world.
In December of 2004, Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage were arrested for raising the West Papuan flag, known as the “Morning Star” flag during a peaceful ceremony outside Abepura in Papua, Indonesia. The flag is a symbol of Papuan independence. Filep and Yusak were subsequently charged with rebellion for allegedly leading the flag-raising event, and were later sentenced to prison for 10 and 15 years respectively in May 2005 for charges of treason for “betraying” Indonesia by flying the outlawed flag. Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience, detained purely for the peaceful and legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
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Supporters rally for Yusak and Filep in front of the White House. © AIUSA
Just this week, our Individuals at Risk team received a special message from Yusak Pakage and Filep Karma – two prisoners of conscience in jail for peacefully raising a flag – from their prison cells in Indonesia. Here’s what they wrote:
Since our being sentenced to prison, Amnesty International has opposed our being imprisoned for legitimately exercising our right to freedom of expression. We wish to express our appreciation for Amnesty’s advocacy.
We will continue fighting for Filep and Yusak until they are freed and their rights restored.
President Obama is taking a trip to Indonesia in less than a week, and we want him to carry a message of freedom and hope to Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage. That’s why this past weekend, scores of Amnesty activists and supporters braved torrential rain to rally in front of the White House with flags, banners, and posters asking President Obama not to forget human rights and these two Prisoners of Conscience when he meets with Indonesian President Yudhoyono. Speakers from East Timorese Action Network (ETAN) joined us in calling for their immediate and unconditional release. It was indeed a powerful show of solidarity and our determination to secure the release of both Filep and Yusak!
President Obama spent four years of his childhood in Indonesia and this trip marks a special opportunity to forge an understanding between the two countries based on human rights. But this can only happen if President Obama commits to speaking up for those who were punished for speaking out.
If you weren’t at the rally, it’s not too late to help Filep and Yusak. Call on President Obama to pressure the Indonesian government to release Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage.
Or if you have the time, call the White House comment line: 1-202-456-1111 (TTY/TDD 202-456-6213). Or if you have trouble getting through, call the White House switchboard: 1-202-456-1414 and ask to be connected to the comment line.
Remember these men from Indonesia? Monday was the four year anniversary of their arrest, and Amnesty is encouraging people to blitz the Indonesian government with emails on their behalf.
Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, who are also featured in this year’s Write-a-thon, were arrested and sentenced to prison sentences of 15 and 10 years, respectively, for their nonviolent activities. Amnesty International considers the two men to be prisoners of conscience. Please take a few minutes out of your day to campaign for the release of these men.
With all the patriotic spirit and flag-waving (and questions about lapel pins) that we’ve been seeing lately surrounding the Presidential election here in the United States, it can be easy to forget just how powerful a symbol a flag can be, and how heavy a price can be exacted for raising the wrong one. But as election season draws to a close and we in the Individuals at Risk Campaign prepare for the annual Global Write-a-thon, I’ve been thinking a lot about Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, whose case is featured in this year’s Write-a-thon.
Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage
On December 1, 2004, some 200 people participated in a nonviolent ceremony outside Abepura in Papua, Indonesia, during which the Morning Star flag, a symbol of Papuan independence, was raised. Filep and Yusak were later charged with rebellion for allegedly leading the flag-raising event. In May 2005, a court sentenced Filep Karma to 15 years in prison and Yusak Pakage to 10 years on charges of treason for having “betrayed” Indonesia by flying the outlawed Papua flag. Amnesty International considers Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage to be prisoners of conscience who have been detained purely for the peaceful and legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
So whether you’re feeling good or bad about the results of the election in the United States, if you see a flag waving, think about Filep and Yusak, and do something to help them by signing up for the Write-a-thon. Write a letter, save a life!