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Benny Wenda Photo: RNZI/ Koroi Hawkins

A leading activist has described West Papuan pro-independence champion Filep Karma as a great leader and a great man.

Karma, the most prominent pro-independence West Papuan activist to have been imprisoned in Indonesia, died in an apparent diving incident in Jayapura, Papua.

The head of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) Benny Wenda has called a national day of mourning in West Papua.

"For West Papuans, Karma was equivalent to Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King," Wenda said.

He said Karma stood for justice, democracy, peace and non-violent resistance, but despite this, he was jailed for raising the Morning Star flag.

He said Karma was a frontline leader, present at every single protest, reassuring and inspiring all West Papuans who marched or prayed with him.

"All the West Papuan people, whether in the bush, in the cities, the refugee camps, or in exile, are mourning the loss," he said.

Wenda has called a national day of mourning in West Papua after the death of Karma.

He criticised the Indonesian state, saying as supporters said their final farewells while carrying Karma's coffin to his house, police snatched their Morning Star flags away.

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West Papuan pro-independence activist Filep Karma (inside vehicle) shakes hands with his supporters after being released from prison in Abepura, Papua province, on November 19, 2015. Photo: AFP