Illustration of Benny Wenda by Hasbi Ilman

The Unbroken Spirit of Benny Wenda

It’s been a very long time since Benny Wenda has been home. The well-known Papuan activist claimed political asylum in the United Kingdom in 2002. Today, he lives in the English university city of Oxford—across the world from the lush highlands of West Papua where he was born.

The path that led Benny to the United Kingdom began long before he was even born. Until 1961, West Papua was a Dutch colonial territory. On 1 December 1961, West Papua declared its independence from the Netherlands. Indonesia, however, had claimed West Papua as part of its territory. Following the declaration of independence, it invaded and occupied West Papua. In 1969, it secured United Nations recognition for its claim via a rigged referendum process—the “Act of Free Choice”—where 1,026 tribal leaders, supposedly representing 800,000 Papuans, were forced under severe duress to accept integration into Indonesia. Since then, West Papua has been under de facto Indonesian military rule, and those who resist have experienced surveillance, harassment, imprisonment, and violence.

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