Benny Wenda is the most important voice on the international scene fighting for West Papuan independence from Indonesia.
As a child growing up and tending gardens in the remote highlands of West Papua, Benny Wenda never envisioned that one day he would be the leader of a movement to free his country. In fact, before the Indonesian military showed up in his remote Lani village in 1977, and started routinely sexually assaulting his mother and aunties (sometimes to death), he had no reason to believe he wasn’t free. He didn’t know where these people had come from and why they committed the atrocities they did.
When his people rebelled the Indonesian military bombed their villages; many were killed; crops destroyed; Benny Wenda himself suffered serious injuries as he escaped with survivors into the deep jungle.
After five years of constant aggression from the Indonesian regime, and the death of his grandmother, he had no alternative but to surrender, after which he was enrolled in a school where he battled racism daily. He was only one of two Papuans in his class to graduate.
Benny attended college in the capital of Jayapura, studying sociology and politics. He took on a leadership role asserting his Papuan identity and became aware of the broader context of Indonesia’s occupation of his country. This wasn’t easy. Information about Papua’s history was suppressed, indeed, it was even illegal to say the word ‘Papua.’
In the late 90’s there was increasing optimism for Papuan independence. Benny Wenda became leader of Demmak, The Koteka Tribal Assembly. It was hoped they could appeal to the Indonesian government directly, but it was not to be.
On June 6th 2002 Benny was arrested, his home was searched without a warrant and police refused to inform him of the charges. He was tortured and placed in solitary confinement for several months. He was finally charged with a murder he obviously did not commit. He was violently brutalized on many occasions while in detention. The ensuing trial was a farce and he was sentenced to death.
Yet somehow he managed to escape!
He has been living in the UK, and tirelessly fighting for his people’s independence ever since. He also performs West Papuan music with his wife Maria as The Lani Singers.
Benny and the People of West Papua need you more than ever! Please visit his website bennywenda.org and show your support for basic human dignity.