West Papuan exiled tribal leader calls on Australia to act

New vision has emerged of independence demonstrations in West Papua. Activists say many of the people involved in the protests have since been arrested for treason.

Indonesian authorities and secessionists have been engaged in a battle for the region spanning the last half a century.

Benny Wenda is a West Papuan independence leader in exile, visiting Australia for the first time. As a child he says he witnessed atrocities in his Central Highlands village.
"Two Aunties were raped in front of my eyes. My mum was beaten up. Indonesians visited my village and my uncle Kapas Wenda was tortured," he told SBS.

That made him join the independence movement, a decision he says saw him locked up on falsified charges. Following a daring jailbreak, Benny Wenda fled Indonesia and escaped to Papua New Guinea.
From there he was able to successfully seek asylum in Britain. But he wasn't able to travel, after Indonesia issued him with an Interpol red notice. His lawyer successfully argued that the international arrest warrant was illegal.

"There is quite a wide-spread abuse of the system that countries like Indonesia, Iran are using the Interpol system to extend their persecution across borders," said Jennifer Robinson, from the International Lawyers for West Papua.

Benny Wenda is currently in Australia as part of a world tour raising awareness of the independence cause.
Indonesia has been heavily criticised for alleged human rights violations in the 50 years since the conflict began.

"There is a kind of apartheid of administrative and political kind which hasn't prevented Papua from having a facade of democracy, " said Professor Peter King from Sydney University.
The media is not allowed to enter the province and raising the Morning Star flag brings with it a hefty jail term. Mr Wenda hopes Australia can put pressure on its close ally to change that.
"Indonesia committed genocide towards my people. That's why look to Australia as our big brother," he said.

But so far the federal government hasn't changed its stance.
"Both sides of Australian politics fully recognise Indonesian sovereignty over Papuan provinces, " said Foreign Minister Bob Carr. 

The Indonesian Ambassador declined the invitation to speak to SBS. His office says there are bigger issues in the relationship that need to be dealt with and that Indonesia continues to count on Australia's support in territorial matters.

The MPs and Senators from all major parties who make up the Parliamentary Friends of West Papua want the issue put front and centre.

"If we claim to have a good, close relationship with Indonesian authorities, then we need to express differences," said Greens Senator Richard Di Natale.

"It is my belief that one day my people and myself will be free, and I will go back as a free man," says Benny Wenda
Until then, Benny Wenda will contine to pray, and play for independence.
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