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Indonesia using Covid-19 crisis to militarise West Papua, independence leader warns

WEST PAPUAN independence movement leader Benny Wenda has demanded “urgent attention from the international community” to claims that Indonesia is using the Covid-19 crisis to further militarise the region.

In a statement issued on Monday night, he accused the state of torturing and imprisoning people in West Papua during the pandemic and said that some detained during last year’s uprising have recently been denied food for a week.

Mr Wenda described the treatment of political prisoners, including United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) chairman Bazoka Logo, as a “political assassination by other means.”

ULMWP leader Mr Wenda said that 30,000 Indonesian prisoners have been set free under emergency measures to limit the spread of the virus, but that no West Papuan has been offered the same reprieve.

“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 [West Papuan] Morning Star flag and demanding their right to self-determination,” he said.

West Papua was annexed by Indonesia in 1969 following the so-called Act of Free Choice, in which just 1,022 handpicked residents were allowed to vote in favour of the move — many doing so at gunpoint. Over 500,000 people are believed to have been killed since Indonesian forces moved into West Papua that year.

Mr Wenda claimed that women and children have been displaced in a move against non-violent West Papuan rights organisations in the city of Sorong, during which an elder was “stripped naked, tortured and humiliated in front of a whole village.”

“It looks like another genocidal attempt by the Indonesian state to wipe out opponents of its colonial occupation,” Mr Wenda said, urging people to “keep safe, and we will keep fighting together to free ourselves from this situation. Our freedom will come.”

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