Two leading West Papuan lawyers have mysteriously died this month, following their successful advocacy for Papuan political prisoners. Three Papuan civilians, two men and one woman who were searching for fragments of gold near the Freeport Mine in Timika, were also shot dead by the military on Indonesian Independence Day. The bitter irony is not lost on us: as Indonesians celebrate their independence, we mourn more Papuan deaths.

Two of our most treasured legal advocates, Ganius Wenda and Yuliana Yabansabra, have died in the same month. They died long before their time. Both protected our people at every turn, and defended the Balikpapan Seven, West Papuan leaders who were imprisoned on trumped up charges following the 2019 uprising against racism. With the help of their great advocacy, the Seven were released after less than a year, rather than the 17 years the prosecution were seeking.

Ms. Yabansabra had been facing threats and intimidation for speaking out over human rights abuses in West Papua. After appearing on an Amnesty International press conference on June 5 this year, she had been attacked online, received threatening phone calls and was physically attacked on June 8 by an unknown assailant. A month later she was dead.

Ganius Wenda was one of the most well-known members of the West Papuan legal community. His successful involvement in the Balikpapan Seven case marked him as an enemy of the Indonesian State for showing up Indonesia’s illegal human rights abuses. He began to receive threatening SMS and phone calls. He is now dead.

Their friends and families all report that the two lawyers were fit, young and healthy. For such young people to die at so young an age in close succession raises serious suspicions.

Ganius Wenda and Yuliana Yabansabra. Say their names. They died in the struggle to show that Papuan Lives Matter. We shall remember them.

This is the month our people were celebrating the return of the seven political prisoners from East Kalimantan, where the Indonesian police had kidnapped and held them for nearly a year. As we welcomed their return, we have suffered another great loss.

To add to our pain, the Indonesian military has shot dead three West Papuan civilians near the Freeport gold and copper mine in Timika. On August 17, Indonesian Independence Day, Uter Newegalen (20), Demu Kiwak (30) and Demeriana Wamang (24) were searching for particles of gold in the huge tailings from the Freeport mine, attempts to reclaim a scrap of the resources that have been stripped from us by the company and Indonesian government. West Papuans are forced into such alluvial mining as a result of the displacement, discrimination and marginalisation we face under the Indonesian colonisation. One member of the West Papuan Army, Hengki Wangman, was also killed the day before.

Not only are we forced into such work, but we risk being shot dead for doing so. This is exactly what happened this month. The Indonesian military is highly trained and well-armed. Its soldiers know the difference between a member of the West Papua Army and an unarmed civilian. These were cold-blooded murders, just like the killing of the father and son in Nduga last month. Uter Newegalen, Demu Kiwak, Demeriana Wamang. Say their names.

Freeport McMoRan is directly responsible for these deaths. The stealing of our resources by the company, facilitated by the guns and boots of the Indonesian military and police, is the root cause of these endless killings around the mine. We demand the company immediately cease all operations in West Papua until it can deal with an independent, Papuan government.

This month’s events are more evidence of the Indonesian State’s attempt to systematically eliminate all opposition to its colonisation of West Papua, and ultimately destroy our people and way of life. As Indonesia continues to increase its military presence in occupied West Papua, these killings will only increase. The ULMWP calls for the immediate withdrawal of all Indonesian military personnel in West Papua, and for an immediate referendum on independence. We must finally put the fate of the West Papuan people in the hands of the West Papuan people.

To my people, you must stay positive, united in one spirit. Our experience of racism and discrimination has shown us the need for unity. We known the Indonesian state is working hard to break our unity. Under the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, we are strong in the face of racism and military operations. UNITY is the key. There is no other option – united, we can defeat our common enemy, the colonial State of Indonesia.

Benny Wenda