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.
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.
Amnesty staff and activists joined together outside of the White House on June 5th for a spirited rally to urge President Obama to seek the release of Filep Karma, Yusak Pakage, and other prisoners of conscience in Indonesia. The event was a birthday celebration for both Filep and Yusak, whose birthdays both fall in the summer months. Activists donned birthday hats, made noise with horns, and sang around a paper mache cake with an AI candle on top. A number of tourists and passersby were intrigued enough to participate in the event and sign a giant birthday card which read: “No More Birthdays in Prison, Free Filep and Yusak!”
So, in honor of Flag Day here in the United States, we encourage you to not only appreciate the right to raise a flag here in our own country, but to take some time and speak up for those who do not have the freedom to fly a flag! Take action now to urge the release of Filep Karma,Yusak Pakage, and all prisoners of conscience in Indonesia!
Courtney A. Myhrum, Individuals at Risk Campaign at AIUSA, contributed to this blog post.