I have received urgent information from West Papua regarding the Indonesian State’s renewed hijacking of the Covid-19 response. Indonesia is using the crisis as an excuse to further militarise my country, torturing and imprisoning people across West Papua. We need urgent attention from the international community to scrutinise Indonesia’s response and prevent them from using this global pandemic to further eliminate West Papuans.

Following the 2019 West Papua Uprising, dozens of peaceful demonstrators were arrested on trumped up political charges. Many of them now lounge in prison in Jayapura, including Bazoka Logo, Chair of the ULMWP’s Political Bureau. I have just received information that these political prisoners have been denied food for a week, pushing their health further into decline. With the virus spreading across Indonesia and into West Papua, why are they being denied food? To weaken their immune system, so they have less protection against Covid? This is political assassination by other means.

All West Papuan political prisoners, including Buchtar Tabuni, Agus Kossay, the five others kidnapped and moved to Kalimantan, and the Jakarta Six, must be released immediately. Thirty thousand Indonesian prisoners have already been set free – why have no West Papuans been released? I’m concerned that with an infection in their prisons, the Papuans are at risk of dying. Indonesia is giving them a death penalty for peacefully raising the Morning Star flag and demanding their right to self-determination.

Rather than release political prisoners, Indonesia is arresting more. Last week, on Serui Island, West Papuans were arrested for holding a peaceful demonstration commemorating the anniversary of Indonesia’s invasion of our land on May 1, 1963, and supporting the ULMWP’s application for full membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Thirteen people, including 50-year old elder, Yoas Yawandare, were arrested for holding a peaceful prayer meeting with a banner.

The Indonesian military is using the lock-down as an excuse to launch new military operations. Women and children have been displaced to the bush by Indonesian operations against the non-violent mass organisation, the KNPB, in Sorong. During these operations, an elder was stripped naked, tortured and humiliated in front of a whole village as the Indonesian military accused him of being ‘OPM’. These stories remind me of the horror of my childhood in West Papua, when such experiences were common place for all of us.

In Timika, the so-called Covid-19 Response Team is not made up of independent health workers, but Indonesian police and military. While the rest of the world treats this as a humanitarian crisis, Indonesia is using it as an excuse to further crack down. One doctor sent to Agimuga Village, a remote and vulnerable settlement in Timika, was not tested before he was dispatched: he turned out to be infected with Covid-19, and died in the village. Why is Indonesia sending infected doctors into remote Indigenous villages? Why did they not test him first? This looks like another genocidal attempt by the Indonesian State to wipe out opponents of its colonial occupation. The world must urgently question Indonesia’s response.

To my people back home, you must take care of yourselves now. Protect yourself by going to the village and tending to your gardens. Do not wander around the cities in contact with lots of people. Indonesia will be using this situation to try to destroy us. Keep safe, and we will keep fighting together to free ourselves from this situation.

Our freedom will come.

Benny Wenda