If you’ve never heard of West Papua, you’re not alone.
It continues to amaze me how this 50-year freedom struggle on the world’s second-largest island is still so little-known. But then, I might not have heard of it myself if it wasn’t for Benny Wenda.
Wenda, an Indigenous leader from the Lani tribe, was arrested by the Indonesian government in 2002 for peacefully advocating for West Papuan independence. Imprisoned on spurious charges, tortured and likely to be killed, he escaped from prison and reached the UK, where he gained political asylum here in Oxford.
An accomplished strategist and diplomat with a gentle, unassuming style, Wenda has spent years building international support for his people’s cause. From Oxford, he launched the Free West Papua campaign, which is the reason why I and many others have now heard of this struggle.
New Internationalist got there before me. Back in 2002, edition 344 was titled ‘West Papua Rising’. Benny Wenda was carrying a copy when he was arrested, which he believes may have caused the Indonesian government to hold back in their treatment of him. This evidence that the world was watching ‘protected me. It may even have saved my life.’
West Papua today stands on a knife-edge between freedom and disaster. In this issue, we hear the voices of people living under occupation and fighting to be free. We learn about the unifying power of Melanesian music, expose the extractive companies that are profiting from Papuan repression, and hear Indigenous leaders lay out their visions of the new country they want to build. With enough international support, those visions could at last become reality.
Danny Chivers for the New Internationalist co-operative.
Connor Woodman reveals the ties that bind transnational mining companies to the Indonesian occupation.