The Indonesian government is imposing effective martial law on West Papua. There is no other way to describe it.

Today, students have been shot with live rounds, tear gassed and beaten with bamboo sticks by police in Jayapura, just for staging a peaceful sit-in. How can people be shot and beaten for sitting in a public space?

Over the past two months, two religious workers, pastor Yeremia Zanambani and Catholic preacher Rafinus Tigau, have been killed by the Indonesian military. Another has been shot, and one more has mysteriously died. Armed police are stalking every corner of West Papua, and troops are forcing thousands of people from their homes across huge swathes of our land. Forty-five thousand have been displaced from Nduga Regency alone, and more are fleeing Intan Jaya every day.

This is martial law in all but name. You cannot walk through an urban centre in West Papua today without being stopped by police, without meeting a military checkpoint. Every demonstration, no matter how peaceful, is met with mass arrests and police brutality – in Nabire on September 24, in Cenderawasih University on September 28, in Jayapura today.

Indonesia is panicking because the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum raised concerns over West Papua this month. Indonesia is haunted by the words of Vanuatu, issued at the UN General Assembly in September. Indonesian is terrified of our Black resistance, our fight against racism and our struggle for self-determination. A normal democratic country does not deploy thousands of military troops against peaceful resistance; a martial law dictatorship does that.

My people are screaming for the world’s help. There is a double pandemic in West Papua: a pandemic of Covid-19 and a pandemic of racism. One way lies the coronavirus – the other way lies the Indonesian military. This medical disaster is made worse by the hunger and destitution of displacement.

Whilst the Indonesian war criminal Defence Minister, Prabowo, travels to the United States and the Indonesian Foreign Minister visits the UK, Indonesia is using the Covid crisis as a cover to intensify military operations in my homeland.

These military operations and crackdowns are crimes against humanity, they are violations of international humanitarian law, and they are violations of the laws of conflict. Military and police repression is the only rule in West Papua. This is the definition of martial law.

We need urgent UN intervention now. Martial law is being imposed under the eyes of regional leaders in Melanesia and the Pacific, and under the eyes of the world. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights must be allowed into the territory, to expose the reality of what is happening in West Papua. The Pacific Islands Forum and Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States must intensify their efforts to bring this visit about.

How long must my people cry for freedom before the world listens? Is 58 years not long enough?

Benny Wenda

Indonesian police fire tear gas at a student sit-in in Jayapura, October 27.

Indonesian police and military attack a student sit-in in Jayapura with bamboo sticks, October 27.

Catholic preacher, Rafinus Tigau, who was killed by the Indonesian military on October 26.