An Interview with Benny Wenda

Author: Febriana Firdaus, Thum Ping Tjin
Published:

PJ Thum: When I founded New Naratif, there were three people I wanted to interview for our site. Two of them were Zunar and Wan Azizah, and you’ll have read their interviews on newnaratif.com. The third was Benny Wenda. Benny has long been a person of interest for me. He’s the leader of the biggest anticolonial independence campaign in Southeast Asia. We think of our region as being post-colonial, but it isn’t. Indonesia invaded and occupied West Papua in 1961. Unlike Timor-Leste, which finally achieved independence in 2002, West Papua remains occupied by Indonesia to this day. I’m a historian of decolonisation, but the fact, the tragedy, is that colonialism is not something consigned to history. It is real and exists today in our backyards. There are still people fighting for their freedom out there, who lack self-determination and sovereignty, fighting governments willing to kill to preserve their rule. So it was an honour to meet a man who is fighting so hard and has paid such a heavy price for his people’s freedom.

 

Who Is Benny Wenda?

PJ Thum: What I am most interested in is, really, who is Benny? Where does he come from? Why does he fight so hard for freedom at that you know he’s willing to exile himself halfway across the world and continue to fight in spite of all the overwhelming odds against him. So I am thinking maybe we can start by you telling me where you come from your childhood in Papua, Lanny Jaya, I think? 

Benny Wenda: Lanny Jaya, western part of the highland of Lanny. I am from Lanny tribe. But Lanny Jaya is other district. (Pirime)

PJ Thum: So maybe you can tell us about your childhood. 

Why I have to fight for this freedom, [is] because I myself [was] born with it. It’s already in the blood. So the fight is not because I heard someone [else]’s story. Or heard someone ask me to fight. But I myself [was] a witness of injustice towards my people, myself. 

I grew up in the highland of West Papua, which is in the western of Lanny. Tribe of Lanny. So I grew up in a village in Lanny, Western Lanny, called Pirime. So I grew up, I didn’t know, I’m just a normal child, I grew up. At that time, with my mom I go to garden. I learned how to make a bow and arrow. I learned how to grow sweet potatoes. But suddenly one time, we were surrounded by Indonesian military. My age was about five or six. So then we were passing the mountains and then suddenly we were stopped by the Indonesian military. My mom was trying not to panic. She was trying to.. You know my aunty was going to the garden. Then suddenly the military stopped my mom and my mom panicked and tried to protect my aunty. And then my mom was beating up in front of my eyes. I was a young boy and I couldn’t do anything. My aunty was raped in front of my eyes. And they just hold.. my aunty to go and then cleaned themselves and then…. Like six or five militaries.. Just that it’s, until today I never forget and because of that I lost those aunty. So I think… that is my childhood memory, until today, I never forget. So that’s the… I don’t know why I am doing this. My mom was beaten up with the gun butt. And she suffered a lot, she passed away, because her rib was broken. Since then, in 1977, we were hiding in the bush. At that time, I knew that Indonesian military bombing my village across the highland. And five years, I am in the bush. Grew up in the bush. 1980, we were loyal to Indonesia. Because so many friends died. Because our crops were destroyed. And many of my friends died because of Malaria. So that is my childhood memory. 

Then 1980, 81, 82, I see the young girl being raped in one of the place called Kobama. All the women seperated, men separated, girls separated. And then one thing, this injustice happened. Every women, they were stood up there, then men, the military, watching them. They had [to have] sex in front of the military’s eyes. That’s… at a human level I…. That time I grew up a little bit, I can see. That is a… you know… sometimes very sad, the story. They just want to see how Papuan [have] sex you know. Like in front of their husband, wife, and some people watching. 

PJ Thum: That’s horrific.

Benny Wenda: So that’s what happened. So that is my childhood memory. 

PJ Thum: You don’t mention your father, If I may ask, what happened to your father? 

Benny Wenda: My father, the same, you know, was beaten up and tortured. He was with me at that time. In fact that he put me in his shoulder. And carried me. You know, military beat him with the gun butt in the back. I fell down from his shoulder. Then my father told them, please put my son on. They make sure that they kill and I have to die, that it’s his idea. Even he was bleeding. But then you know, I never see him anymore. That’s my childhood memory. There is so many to tell, but sometimes it’s very hard to tell, sometimes, you know, hard cry. And I don’t want to talk more, anymore that that. Anymore than that. But this is my story. Every West Papuan can tell their own story. When you sit down, they will tell you. But sometimes if you rush they can not talk to you this case because they will see who’s sitting behind. They also sometimes, like a… when Indonesian friends, you know, they can tell their own story to their friend but sometimes they are scared too, maybe he can tell the military or because someone else watching him. Like my old friends, we were studying together. They are the one who give the information to the intelligence (agent) because they are threatened by the intelligence (agent). Oh you’re with Benny, you’re his friend, you’re studying with him. So that’s my own civil experience. I was arrested because of my close friend. They give the information, because of this. They are threatened by the intelligence. So this is every West Papuan facing this situation. 

PJ Thum: When you say “grew up in the bush”. Can you, especially for a lot of Southeast Asians who don’t understand what it’s like in West Papua. What do you mean by grew up in the bush. Do you literally living off the land, moving from one place to place? 

Benny Wenda: Yes, grew up in the bush means we were hiding, one mountain to another mountain in five-six years. So I grew up six years in the bush with my parents. So many of the people, because they are scared to come to the villages, and because the Indonesian military surrounding. They are scared and they have to hide. We have to look for some food. Just you know, until, that’s what my parents and my grandparents said to my parents maybe you have to go loyal to Indonesia. They put me under the trees. And my grandparents [were] alive, we were just put under the trees. Because my parents can not carry my grandparents, because he carries, you know, take care of me, rather than.. I’m too old, just leave me here. Take this boy and one day maybe he will find out what happening. Mostly we hide, you know, hiding. Just like, America chased the Vietnamese people. They were hiding in the bush. The same thing. Because their crops destroyed. So it’s the same. 

PJ Thum: At some point you came out of the bush. And then you became more active in the resistance, and then how is that? 

Benny Wenda: We follow my grandparents and my dad and then we [behaved] loyal, my parent [behaved] loyal to Indonesia. I see my parents were beaten up, one of my uncle, Kepas Wenda, was tight, his neck. They said to my parents, just like, you’re communist. 

In my village there was a school, then the teaching by Indonesian military. My parents, my uncle too went to that school, and I went to that school and I was scared and trauma seeing the military [teacher] were holding the gun. I just tried one day, two days, and then the next third day, I just ran away. I don’t want to see the military. 

But then my uncle took me to Jayapura. 1983/1984 he took me to Jayapura. And then I went to school to Jayapura. Whole my life I studied in Jayapura. So I don’t want to see the military sometimes. I was still scared, you know, at that time, when I saw their uniform or police. So I grew up in that situation. I left my village. And then I studied in Jayapura. And then I went to the high school. Technical school in Jayapura. 

So one thing that I found out, I didn’t know, I just forgot what happened in the bush. And then one time, we went to school. Teacher told me, Benny you grab that chair. It’s the first. Restarting. Everybody called the crowd, we were welcoming Dewan Kelas (Class Council). Teacher told me, you grab that chair, and I am sitting there next to, you know, she is Celebes (the people who come from Sulawesi Island) So I was sitting. Before I sit, I just hold my book. I want to sit next to this girl and then she looked at me and then she spit my face. Ptui! I thought, maybe, my feeling was, maybe I am smelly. Maybe I didn’t wash enough. 

What happened next day, I went to bought the soap. [I thought] maybe yesterday I was smelly. I washed my body three times. And then I grabbed my book, the same table, sitting next to her and then she looked at me and then two times she just spit [a] second time. And all class was laughing at me and I was angry and I just bang the table. Look, I am a human being like you, I have finger. Maybe my colour is different. I washed three times, I washed in river. So I explained. But she…

So then I remember why are in Indonesia. We wear the same clothes, we are human, we are speaking Bahasa [Indonesian language] and why, I don’t know, I don’t know completely [why] because. Then I recall, why I was hiding in the bush, why we are here. Then I recall everything. That opened my mind. And then, that’s why I stood up and this should never happened to other generation. 

The Beginning

I think that is the beginning of finding out who I am. Why. And then that the starting point as soon as I finished high school and I went to college. So I studied politics. And then the beginning to find out how West Papua became part of Indonesia. Why I am in the bush. Why this fighting. Why everyone break law, we are beaten up and walked down in the street. You know like military beat you up. 

Then I beginning to find out and then I go to library to find out why. Because I study politics so I want to know more. One of lecturers told me that Benny be careful. Benny be careful you aggressively to find out this information you will [be in] danger. He just warned me. Because I am from highland, so our brother in the coast, they know because in trouble with the Dutch, in trouble with Indonesian, because the truth is there. Trade, and ships coming in easily… But in the highland is very difficult. What happened in 1969, what happened 1960, what happened in Sorong, Jayapura, and Biak. Because there’s so many military operations started. They know more than me. So I just like blind, just because I am coming… you know they called primitive, primitive background and uneducated. Because we are from mountain [area]. 

PJ Thum: Let’s not say primitive… inexperienced, let’s say inexperienced.

Benny Wenda: (laughs) Yes. So that’s my… Then I just tried to find out. That’s what I found out and it’s already rooted in my blood and i am ready to tell someone else a story, then I recall what happened, to my uncle, my family, why Indonesian military bombing my village, and why all my family died. The reason because is Indonesia illegally occupied our country. And then they hold a referendum. We call it Act of No Choice. Indonesia called it Act of Free Choice. That is the rule for them. How can out of one million, only 1026 hand picked [voters]. Including one of them, my uncle, Kulok Wenda among them. And that’s why he tells the story to my dad and my uncle. And that they started, this is the injustice you know…they were told when UN come you just say Indonesia, they will count. You just raised your hands. If they say Papua just quiet. That’s their practice. It’s not a referendum, it’s not a proper vote. And that’s why I said New York Agreement, you know we are West Papua, 15th August 1962, that’s America’s and Indonesia’s secret deal, man to one man one vote, that’s secret negotiation and didn’t happened in West Papua. So that’s why their root problem is what happened in 1969. 

Being An Activist

PJ Thum: So when you decided to learn about this, you learn about Indonesia, the occupation. How did you then become an activist. 

Benny Wenda: I don’t want somebody else being killed by indonesian. I don’t hate indonesian people. We are studying together. We eat same food. And those people come yes because of the political reason. But why I strongly believe that justice for everyone. This is a humanitarian issue. It’s not about Benny Wenda fight for myself. But this is for how to… every human being live in harmony, peace, and harmony, everyone. Because we share one planet. We are like community. But if somebody else use the gun to kill an unarmed [person], women being raped, just because they believe different ideology, then just killed an unarmed [person]. So women being raped, children being kidnapped. 

So my mission is how to… people in West Papua live in harmony. Within surrounding. They reunion with their family. And you know, Indonesia friend. That’s one. Secondly, is West Papua need to be politically independent. That’s the main mission to fight. No more killing, no more rape, no more torture. We want to live with peace with harmony, with nature, with everyone. 

PJ Thum: But are you like that from the very beginning, I mean for example, Mandela when he was younger, he was a radical, and then he did, he conducted violence, used violent tactics. And then over time he realised that’s not going to build a lasting peace. I think all of us change right? For example, I am not the person I was when I was 20. So this position is very clear, but is this something you have at the very beginning? Or did you arrive over time? Based on your experience?

Benny Wenda: My experience. Because of my… I don’t want to be like my auntie, my auntie was passed away because of rape. And my uncle was.. I don’t want that violence, I don’t want to see, I just want the peace. That’s from the beginning. That’s my belief. And then I studied politics, Indonesia politics. Indonesia, you know, in a system, very, for example, Indonesia law, you can buy. You can buy the law with your own money. That (kind of) law you can’t apply to the West Papuan. There’s injustice still continues. 

And I strongly believe that the peaceful way, more people attracted [to that]. That’s what I study. And I see that. 

When 1970-80 that’s a regrevolutionulation era. But that’s not applied. That time is different. So when I saw the elders, they are fighting in the bush. They can’t win and I seen it. Including my parents. They tried to fight using bow and arrow [against] helicopter… jet, also weapons. They can’t (win). I see it. They just suddenly shoot and they died. With bow and arrow, they can’t win. That’s why I strongly believe that time, that’s why I followed my grandparents. This people just like my aunty, they can’t win that, but you will fight differently. So that’s why my parent saved my life and I continue to study and use that knowledge to change the view of the world as well as the Indonesian people to understand our fight and that I already believed in strongly. 

Organising and Mobilising

PJ Thum: So you were in college, you have this political awakening in 1998 (after Suharto stepped down), so what happened next? How do you decide to resist? What did you organize? Go on the street? Organise petitions?

So as soon as Suharto… (stepped down) this is not only in West Papua but across Indonesia, everybody came out, this is the time, because Suharto regime is really corrupt… as soon as student protest in Jakarta everywhere and then Suharto collapse, everybody came out, including East Timor, West Papua, Acehnese, everywhere across Indonesia. This is like opening. (This is when Soeharto fell, 1998?) Yes. Since then, people like more openly came out. In West Papua, even you mention the name [of] Papua, you will be killed, you will be arrested. But since people call “merdeka” “West Papua” “Papua” and then I was excited too. So everyone, student also protesting, I one of them, include in the all student movement. We were protesting, demanding..other part of Indonesia great democracy. But [not us], we are asking the independence. 

Since then 2000, I was elected by my people to the Koteka Assembly. And that power I use to more-more… coordinate to mobilise it peacefully to come out in the street and we demanded Indonesia government.. We wanted independence, peacefully. Hundreds went to Jakarta and that time President Habibie said ‘You West Papua go back and think’ and then we went back to West Papua we organize ourselves calling the Congress in 2000. Since then my voice became more powerful. Coordinate more-more. 

PJ Thum: Before we get to that, just to clarify, what were you doing between 1990-1998? 

Benny Wenda: That was student, just protesting. Organize the meeting. Empowering. Look, if Suharto collapse, maybe this is the opportunity. And everyone I was coordinating underground, they are trying to gain confidence ourselves. Even in the university campus, there or four people sitting, there’s someone watching you, we just split (then). At that time, it’s golden opportunity for us. So we just try to coordinate from one campus to another campus. 

PJ Thum: So you kind of rose through the ranks of these underground network so that by the time Soeharto fell, you were one of the leaders?

Benny Wenda: Yes. I just want to give confidence all the other Papuans. “Look this is our people, what we see?” Then we have seen it but we’re scared. No, this is, we have to stood up for our people. 

PJ Thum: So then after the fell of Soeharto, you formed the Koteka Tribal Assembly. Can you tell us more about that organisation? 

Benny Wenda: With FORERI and other group, Koteka Tribal Assembly is mainly focus on the mobilising the grassroot support. Because we have many tribes, Indonesia can use another tribe to against the on tribe. So (we) use this to accommodate the voice of everyone. If there’s Papuan elite goes to Jakarta, they talked differently. But i feel that, No, must come from the people. People decide what they want. Not the elite go to Jakarta talk differently. For example, this elite go to Jakarta they accepted autonomy come back. But I said, NO. People in West Papua is dying for their freedom. Dying for independence. We need to listen what the people want. That I really strongly object, to the autonomy. And then mobilise the people [to say] NO. Our aim is gained the independence from Indonesia government. I will never compromise any offer from Jakarta. That’s why Indonesia don’t like me. 

PJ Thum: Why not autonomy? Why independence? 

Benny Wenda: When Papua integrated part of Indonesia, 1969, Indonesia already promised that they give autonomy for West Papuan, but they never fulfilled that obligation. This is taken… so it’s joke. Why? And so that’s why I strongly refuse. Why 30 years now, we asked for independence, you send the second beings [unintelligible]. That’s a joke. So that’s why I strongly objected from the beginning. This is a joke. 

PJ Thum: Gus Dur, did you feel like have a chance with him maybe? 

Benny Wenda: I think (from) the whole of the Indonesian presidents, Gus Dur is a man of the moderate. He is [the one who] delivered the name back to West Papua [Suharto forced Papua to call itself Irian Jaya]. Even he tried to recognise West Papua, [said] our flag, it’s cultural symbol. That’s why I believe that Gus Dur, he is a man of peace. And he is a man of the truth, of Indonesians. I think he is the symbol of the peace and justice. The whole Indonesia. I don’t believe the current president or the previous president. But I think Gus Dur is one of the brave. I think, ya, that’s my opinion. 

PJ Thum: Unfortunately he didn’t last long enough… Do you think that he would grant independence? 

Benny Wenda: I think way that, for example, he gave the flag, he recognise that flag as a cultural symbol. So then it is a good sign. He bravely gave the West Papua, I called Papua now. Before, never. So that’s a little bit sign. But as soon as change, Megawati come, Theys Eluay was assassinated in 2001. I was arrested 2002. That’s the beginning of the crackdown. 

Crackdown

PJ Thum: Since you mention Theys Eluay, can you tell us more about Theys Eluay? You start the Koteka Tribal Assembly with him? 

Benny Wenda:  Yes. This is Koteka Tribal Assembly, we elected him as the leader. Because we held the congress in 2000. And that’s the Koteka Tribal Assembly is mobilised grassroot to support back that the congress. So i want to mobilise, grassroot level, to support back that the congress. So I one that mobilise grassroot level, everyone. But the aim that at that time, the declaration full independence. 

PJ Thum: His assassination is that a big turning point for you? 

Benny Wenda: That’s why. Huge loss. He… 2001. I was chased by the military, and I was hiding because we were flag rising, at that time, flag rising in the town, including Filep Karma. Filep was a chair, I was Deputy Chair of the flag rising. And then Indonesia look for us we were hiding. One day he assassinated and we were hiding. Then we begin again. I was arrested 2002.

Escape From Prison

PJ Thum: You were arrested in 2002 after facing false allegations… you were in prison and managed to escape to Papua New Guinea. Can you tell us? 

Benny Wenda: Yes, I was arrested. Because I am the leader of the Koteka Tribal Assembly. Secondly, we were arrested for raising the flag in the capital [Jayapura]. So that the allegation that Indonesia accused me of attacking the police station but it’s not true. And I am not involved, even I am not there. So that case that lead up to my arrest. I always, in the court, I always questioning who’s the witness, what the evidence of my crime, never brought the witness – witness in Jakarta, or busy and this and that. How without witness [yet] I have to face the charge 25 years. What is my crime? That’s my question, directly to the judge. 14 times, I went to the court 7 times. But along the way, there were trying to, three times, use some of the other prisoners to try to kill me. And there’s rumor, oh this is OPM come to take Benny, so the intelligence and police always come to guard the prison. One time, the head of the prisoner, Mr Sudarsono, came to at night in my door. Knocked my door. I was scared and I woke up. He said: Are you Benny. Yes. I am Benny. Why you ask me? You put me this cell why you ask me? And he said, Oh, you already fat. Fat means because we West Papuan was the pig, and pig already fat, and we are ready to kill. And that’s last minute that my body was sweaty…. Okay this is it, they are going to kill me. I think he was just saying this word and my interpretation is different because by saying that my body was sweaty. So that’s I decide if I stay, I will be killed, better (if) I escape. While I escape and they kill me, and that’s fine. That’s my decision. I just don’t want they kill me like animal, pig. So I decide to escape, break the ventilations. And then I escape.

Benny Wenda in Abepura Prison - New Naratif
Benny Wenda in Abepura Prison bennywenda.org

PJ Thum: So you escape on your own?

Benny Wenda: Yes my own. This is my message at the time. I said if I manage to escape, I don’t know where I am going but, I am free, one day I carry the message with me, one day, I’ll tell the world that my people want to free and then that’s my promise. And I tell my land, my people that I leave you with tears but one day I will come back with you with smile, that’s my promise. So it’s not promise to anybody but to the God, to the land, and to the people. So that’s my secret promise. I am on the mission until I fulfil the promise. Just want to see that people in West Papua sitting the table with their peace and harmony, with everybody. That’s my mission that’s my promise. And then I break the ventilation. I manage to escape across the border of Papua New Guinea. 

PJ Thum: This prison is…?

Benny Wenda: Abepura. In Jayapura.

PJ Thum: Isn’t that a long distance to get to Papua New Guinea?

Benny Wenda: It’s a long distance but we know the road from Jayapura to the border. So, in the day hide, in the night walk.

Building a Global Movement

PJ Thum: So how did you build the global organisation? Free West Papua Movement, from nothing. You were alone in Papua New Guina, you had nothing…

Benny Wenda: Ya, it’s very hard as human level. You lonely, you feel that none here. Because out there, as human being can just tell simple story not complicated. You can picked it up the story. When I am here, a lot of people tell me. Oh Benny, your case is a big country. How can you change the mindset of this big country. This is five continents, how you change their mind and winning their heart and mind? And I said, they are human being, they are not robot. When you tell a simple story, they will listen to you. That’s my feeling. They are human, I am a human. Human contact. Just tell the simple story. Even my English was very little. Just say yes or no. Even I came here, I am not… you know?. But I believe, something that I believe. I am fighting not for Benny Wenda. Not for Benny Wenda become a big [celebrity]. I just see people of West Papua cry for justice. That’s my sentiment. Then I formed the West Papua Free campaign in 2005, here in Oxford, and then I almost up and down this country. Tell them my story with my wife and play music. Tell the story through music. Our own story. Up and down the country. And then form the group here in Papua New Guinea and Australia, America, and Netherlands. So I formed this group. Just main is Free West Papua Campaign to educate the people around the world. And our Indonesian friends around the world, what would happen, where we are going, why people of West Papua fighting, that’s the main vision of West Papua campaign.


Benny Wenda at the Oslo Freedom Forum, 2012 

The Petition

PJ Thum: So if Papua’s such a war zone, what I’m curious about is, how did you manage to get 1.8 million signatures for your petition to the UN? That’s 70 percent of the population. How did you manage to mobilise so many people to get so many signatures?                                                                           

Benny Wenda: When we launched the international survival in 2016, we secretly [formed a] committee in West Papua to collect the petition. So because when you announce Indonesia will arrest they will suddenly there. I everywhere. So what they did is just go every region. Because there’s seven region, and they divided it, and they go every houses. They collect secretly. Some of them are being arrested. Some of them stop it. Some of them including some of them already found out they are using West Papua against… but many of the petition smuggled during all the way to United Kingdom. That is amazing story. 

PJ Thum: It really speaks to the strength of your grassroots movement, and that strength of the Papua people. In spite of the war zone, the military, you can get so many signatures. It’s quite amazing. 

Benny Wenda: This is you know, this is the real referendum. And people already vote. When Indonesia claimed [in] 1969 you know, the 1,026… I call this is real referendum, this our people design. Indonesia argue that all that fake so that’s why okay we need to testify, give West Papua, well that number can they hold a vote? That’s why if Indonesia argue then we hold the referendum now. Whether you prove what you did 1969 or what you know.

The Next Generation

PJ Thum: How old are you now, if I may ask?

Benny Wenda: I am 43 now. Turning 44 this year.  

PJ Thum: What about the new generation in West Papua? Is there a new generation in New West Papua coming up who will take the lead and in time succeed? 

Benny Wenda: Almost all the activists they became the leader in their own own right. So for example the new generation emerge everywhere. For example in their school, their school, children, one of the story that one teacher told me this is their draw, can you draw a flag. And then they draw West Papua Flag and Indonesia. And why draw? This is my flag, this is your flag, in the early age, they know what happened, because the issue with them. Because when their mother cry, they also cry with them. Their father, why you cry? Because someone being killed. So that’s why the leadership in every generation will come and emerge one leader to another. Like when Theys Eluay was killed. I was trying to my best but I couldn’t. But now many leaders will come, emerge. 

PJ Thum: How do you keep yourself going? You know it’s so hard. And Indonesia… it’s not even the biggest problem for the Indonesian leaders. To them Papua is… for them the biggest problem is the economy, the infrastructure. They don’t care about you. Indonesia is big country, it’s a rich country and there’s so few of you and you’re fighting so hard for what is right. That must be frustrating. How do you keep yourself going at times when you feel there’s no hope? 

Benny Wenda: It’s human level you’re tiring. But something that you believe like for example, this wood [indicates table] might be really strong but just small hammer, knocking, knocking, knocking, one day will crack. It’s the same thing, that I believe that even none can listen but I keep knocking knocking knocking knocking, that’s my believe. While my people cry, while my people being killed, while my people tears, no one can stop me. I fight until fulfil the mission to free my people. Then I will stop. That’s my mission. Nobody stop me until I free my people then I will sleep peacefully and I will eat… but while my people cry, while my people are in tears. Even I sleep nice bed, nice food, but my stomach not full you know. I just because of this humanitarian issue it’s not about Benny Wenda. It’s not about you but this is women and children and next generation. We are all human. We believe in justice and freedom. Whether you’re Muslim, whether you’re Christian, at the end of the day it’s about human issue. Human rights issue. Humanitarian issue. You cannot live when your children beaten up and killed in front of you. How (do) you feel? It’s human level. It’s human nature. We have to fight. It’s not about me to be… people know me. No. That’s not about it. Because this fight is rooted with me in blood. Because I have seen it. So that’s why I don’t want any children cry for their mother. Because lost their mother. Lost their children. Lost their love ones. That’s simple. It’s not about after fight I become a millionaire. I become big name. No. Just simple. I want to see that people West Papua see the justice and freedom. Even Muslim they can worship freely. Even Christian even more Buddhists, Hindus, they all live in West Papua. Even though Indonesia say oh they are Christian they are Muslim, no. My people before Indonesia come, they are already Muslim. My people believe in Christian, Muslim. So it’s not about Christian[vs.]  Muslim, it’s not about Buddhists or Hindus, but about humanity issue. That simple. 

More in New Naratif

Further Reading

Organisations Working on West Papua

Febriana Firdaus

Febriana Firdaus is an independent investigative journalist whose major focus is reporting the struggle for self-determination in West Papua. Her piece on the killings of the children in the highlands in West Papua was published in the TIME. She also notably received the SOPA Award for excellent reporting on the environment for her 'vigorous and detailed look at a major environmental problem' in Mentawai Island.

Thum Ping Tjin

Thum Ping Tjin (“PJ”) is Managing Director of New Naratif and founding director of Project Southeast Asia, an interdisciplinary research centre on Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford. A Rhodes Scholar, Commonwealth Scholar, Olympic athlete, and the only Singaporean to swim the English Channel, his work centres on Southeast Asian governance and politics. His most recent work is Living with Myths in Singapore (Ethos: 2017, co-edited with Loh Kah Seng and Jack Chia). He is creator of “The History of Singapore” podcast, available on iTunes. Reach him at pingtjin.thum@newnaratif.com.

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