• May 11, 2017
Benny Wenda (centre) with audience members at AUT. Photo: Ashleigh McCaull
An independence leader is advocating for New Zealand to join the fight to free West Papua.
Benny Wenda, an independence leader for West Papua and founder of the Free West Papua Campaign spoke at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) last night. During his address, he talked about the country’s struggle for freedom and human rights abuse over the last 50 years.
The Indonesian government took over West Papua months after the country was given independence from the Netherlands at the end of 1961 in its mission to claim former Dutch colonies in the Asia-Pacific region.
Mr Wenda told the audience his experience of living in West Papua – his mother was beaten and the Indonesian military raped his aunt in front of him in 1977.
However, Mr Wenda shared how he managed to escape from prison in 2002 after being arrested for leading peaceful demonstrations.
He said the land was being destroyed by the Indonesian military, causing deforestation, which is the West Papuans’ source for food.
“They don’t care about our environment, our nature. They only care about how to get rich…If we don’t act, the forest will be destroyed,” said Mr Wenda.
West Papua is located 500km north of Australia and a close neighbour of the Pacific, New Zealand in particular.
“Australia and New Zealand need West Papua…we are the gatekeeper and for security reasons, West Papua is very important,” said Mr Wenda
He encouraged everyone who attended the meeting to spread the message about the injustice through the Free West Papua Facebook page.
Director of the Pacific Media Centre at AUT, Professor David Robie, said when he attended the World Media Freedom day in Indonesia last week, the authorities attempted to gag discussion about West Papua.
“Whatever happens in West Papua is going to have repercussions for the rest of the region…it’s important to know of issues happening in our own region,” said Professor Robie.
Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty said New Zealand needed to join the other seven Pacific Islands urging for change, and make it eight.
One attendee, Auckland University student Georgia Thomson, admitted she did not know much about West Papua before the meeting, but said she wanted to learn what she as an individual could do to help.
“I thought it exposed people to a lot of information you wouldn’t otherwise find in your news media and then, of course, you wouldn’t know to look for it,” said Miss Thomson.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Gerry Brownlee was unavailable to comment on New Zealand’s relationship with West Papua.