Free Victor Yeimo now, says exiled Papuan leader Benny Wenda

Victor Yeimo
Papuan campaigner Victor Yeimo in handcuffs ... arrested spokesperson for the West Papua National Committee, a peaceful civil society disobedience organisation. Image: Tribunnews

Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

An exiled West Papuan leader has demanded the immediate release of arrested campaigner Victor Yeimo, saying that his detention was a “sign to the world” that the Indonesian government was using its terrorist designation as a smokescreen to further repress Papuans.

Indonesian police arrested Yeimo, one of the most prominent leaders inside West Papua, on allegations of makar – treason, on Sunday.

Yeimo is spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB), regarded as peaceful civil society disobedience organisation active within Papua.

“Any West Papuans who speak out about injustice – church leaders, local politicians, journalists – are now at risk of being labelled a ‘criminal’ or ‘terrorist’ and arrested or killed,” said Benny Wenda, interim president of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) in a statement.

“What is Victor Yeimo’s crime? To resist the Indonesian occupation through peacefully mobilising the people to defend their right to self-determination,” he said.

“He is accused of ‘masterminding’ the 2019 West Papua Uprising, which was started by Indonesian racism and violence, and ended in a bloodbath caused by Indonesian troops.

“Indonesia constantly creates violence and uses propaganda – and the fact that international journalists continue to be barred from entering – to blame it on West Papuans.

Many labels to ‘deligitimise’ resistance
“Jakarta has used many labels to try and delegitimise resistance to its genocidal project: ‘armed criminal group’ (KKB), ‘wild terrorist gang’, ‘separatist’.

“Indonesia has lost the political, moral and legal argument, and has nothing left but brute force and stigmatising labels.”

Wenda said that Indonesia was trying to distract attention from the huge military operations it is launching in Nduga, Intan Jaya and Puncak Jaya.

Around 700 people from 19 villages have already been displaced over the past two weeks.

“Indonesia is using its ‘Satan Troops’, trained in the genocide in East Timor, to attempt to wipe out the entire Indigenous population. From the 1965 military operations to the 1977 Operasi Koteka, we carry the trauma of Indonesian military operations.

“What is beginning now is a 21st century version of this. Jakarta has no interest in pursuing a peaceful solution to this crisis.”

Wenda called on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and the Indonesian police to release Yeimo immediately.

“International governments and organisations must put immediate pressure on the Indonesian authorities to halt this sham prosecution,” he said.

“We have our Provisional Government, constitution, and newly formed cabinet. We must come together and show the Indonesian government and the world that we are ready to take over the administration of our country.”

‘Mastermind’ accusation
The Jakarta Post reports that the police accuse Yeimo of being the “mastermind” behind the civil unrest and of committing treason, as well as inciting violence and social unrest, insulting the national flag and anthem, and carrying weapons without a permit.

Emanuel Gobay, one of a group of Papuan lawyers representing Yeimo, said his client had not yet been officially charged. Treason can carry a sentence of life in jail.

Protests convulsed Indonesia’s provinces of Papua and West Papua, widely collectively known as West Papua, for several weeks in August/September 2019.

The sometimes violent unrest erupted after a mob taunted Papuan students in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second city on the island of Java, with racial epithets, calling them “monkeys”, over accusations they had desecrated a national flag.

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