As the Melanesian Spearhead Group prepares for its Leaders’ Meeting, Indonesia is once again ramping up its military occupation of Melanesian West Papua.

Nineteen members of the non-violent pro-independence group the KNPB (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, National Committee for West Papua) were taken into custody on June 9th, after holding a peaceful coffee meeting in Tambrauw Regency. Three have now been charged with treason, becoming the latest victims of Indonesia’s Papuan prison state. Their arrests are entirely politically motivated and they must be immediately released.

Indonesia is already an outlaw in the Pacific region – it has already disregarded the will of the Pacific Islands Forum, the Organisation of African, Pacific, and Carribean States, along with many other major world powers, by refusing to allow the UN Commissioner for Human Rights access to West Papua. Now they are using the kidnapping of pilot Phillip Merhtens to increase their military presence across our land.

West Papuans have suffered greatly over the past few months due to this military escalation. Civilians in Intan Jaya, Puncak Jaya, and other rural areas are living under martial law, with roaming bands of Indonesian soldiers acting with total impunity. Life in West Papua is now defined by surveillance, torture, and arbitrary arrest.

The arrest of these KNPB members is yet another example of what Indonesia’s military ‘combat alert’ means for West Papua. We are still mourning Tarina Murib, a 35-year-old mother who was murdered and beheaded in Puncak in March. Ms Murib’s family, along with a group of West Papuan lawyers, are demanding justice for this heinous and evil crime.

Ms Murib’s cold-blooded killing prompted a flurry of forced displacement in West Papua, as Puncak residents fled in panic to neighbouring Regencies. News from on the ground in West Papua is that more Indonesian military operations are also being conducted on Yapen Island, following the forced displacement of nearly 100 Papuan civilians there last December. Sadly, these displacements are merely a grain of sand in a storm of Indonesian brutality: around 100,000 West Papuans have been forcibly displaced since 2018.

The people of Yapen Island are isolated and peaceful. Yet they are again being violently terrorised by an army famed for its brutality, enforcing an illegal military occupation.

Indonesia realises that the West Papuan issue is not going away – that every political arrest or crackdown only strengthens our resolve. But instead of defusing the situation by withdrawing their military, Indonesia is intensifying their repression. With this new crackdown, Indonesia is once again demonstrating that anyone who peacefully stands up for West Papua is a target.

As President of the ULMWP, I am again calling on Indonesia to allow the UN High Commissioner access to West Papua, along with all foreign journalists and NGOs – also currently barred from entering the territory. I demand the immediate release the three KNPB activists, as well as the West Papuan students arrested in November. I also call for the release of Victor Yeimo, another KNPB leader who has now been imprisoned for close to two years on trumped-up treason charges.

My people are crying out for international help. The world must take notice of this Indonesian escalation and intervene.

Benny Wenda
Interim President
ULMWP Provisional Government

KNPB activists being taken into custody

The Papuan students arrested last year