By Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk
The Oxford City Council is to award West Papuan activist Benny Wenda the Honorary Freedom of the City accolade for his tireless fight for West Papuan self-determination.
Wenda, whom the United Kingdom granted political asylum in 2002, lives in Oxford with his family and it serves as the headquarters of his campaign to liberate the people of West Papua.
According to the Oxford City Council, the Freedom Award is the highest honour the City of Oxford can bestow and is one of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence.
It is an honorary status only, with no other rights than to attend formal council meetings, such as Annual Council, and ceremonial occasions such as civic church services.
In a press release, Leader of Oxford City Council, Councillor Susan Brown said “ever since Benny Wenda made Oxford his home and base for campaigning for the people of West Papua, Oxford residents and the City Council have taken his cause for their own.”
“We are delighted to give this honour to an Oxford resident who has campaigned so tirelessly on behalf of his people.”
Wenda thanked the Oxford City Council and people of Oxford for their generosity and support in conveying the award.
“When I escaped from an Indonesian prison in West Papua in 2002, Oxford was one of the first places in the world that welcomed me and my family,” he said.
“I was given asylum in the UK and have made Oxford my home. Oxford was one of the first to hear the cry of the West Papuan people for justice, human rights and self-determination and this award shows that the people of Oxford are listening and responding.
“The West Papuan people know that our struggle is not just an issue for West Papuans now, but has become an issue that has touched the hearts of thousands around the world. My journey has taken me here from the jungles of West Papua and the inside of an Indonesian prison cell.
“But until we are able to return to an independent West Papua, my family and I are not truly free. I thank the people of Oxford for all their assistance as we work to finish our long journey home.”
According to the press release, Wenda settled in the city after reading Oxford-resident George Monbiot’s book ‘Poisoned Arrows’, which first brought to light the story of the tribal people of western New Guinea and described the Indonesian government’s transmigration campaign to drive them off ancestral lands into poverty and starvation.
He has acted as special representative of the Papuan people in the UK Parliament, United Nations and European Parliament. In 2017 he was appointed Chairman for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), a new organisation uniting the three main political organisations struggling for the independence of West Papua.
The Freedom will be awarded at a special meeting of the Full Council to be held in Oxford Town Hall, at 5pm on July 17.
- Bendy Wenda visited the Pacific Media Centre at AUT University in 2013 and 2016.