The oppression of the people of West Papua has been described as ‘slow-motion genocide’.
The struggle to gain independence from the rule of Indonesia has been long and largely hidden from the rest of the world.
Benny Wenda, the West Papuan independence leader, tells some of his story on the freewestpapua.org website: “When I was a child my village was bombed by the Indonesian military and many of my family were killed.
“Later, I began to campaign peacefully to free my country from Indonesian occupation. For this ‘crime’ I was arrested, tortured and threatened with death.
“I managed to escape to the UK, where I now live in exile. My people are still suffering. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, raped and tortured. All we want is to live without fear and for West Papua to become a free and independent country.
“Please hear my peoples’ cry for help. Please support the Free West Papua Campaign.”
One Lower Clarence woman, Emma Capp, has answered Benny Wenda’s plea for help and is doing what she can to raise awareness and maybe some money to donate to the cause.
She has hired the Yamba Cinema to screen Isolated, a film about five surfers, searching for “unexplored waves and a unique adventure, who find themselves in the midst of political turmoil and a journey that [changed] their mission and their lives”.
Capp was touched by the plight of West Papua’s people when she attended the West Papua freedom forum in Darwin last year.
“It was organised by friends of mine who did the freedom flotilla to West Papua,” she says.
“I met West Papuans who had escaped and been exiled.
“I heard their stories and met a man who had been locked in a cage for years. He’d escaped. After meeting people like that, I wanted to do something.”
Capp says she used to be involved in environmental campaigns, but learning about West Papua “changed my mind and made me go on this path”.
About the film, Capp says the surfers “stumble upon a story”.
“They kind of have an idea about what’s going on in the country, but then they meet people and hear their stories, then they let the movie evolve through the people that they meet.”
Following the election of President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, the ban on foreign journalists entering the country was lifted.
However, Reporters Without Borders criticised the Indonesian Government in October last year in a story titled: ‘Indonesian president fails to keep media freedom pledges in first year’.
“Despite the democratic hopes raised by his election, Joko Widodo’s presidency is far from meeting expectations with regard to access to information,” Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk, said.
“The authorities continue to suppress information and Jokowi’s campaign pledge to open up the West Papua region to foreign journalists was just an illusion.
“If journalists can go there – under certain conditions – they are closely watched, exposing their sources to reprisals by the authorities.”
To learn more about what is happening in West Papua watch a 2013 Al Jazeera report at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLdyDXXPAZs.
Better still; learn more and be entertained by attending the Yamba Cinema this Saturday night March 19 at 6.45pm and watch Isolated.
Emma Capp will present a short talk and t-shirts will be on sale; entry $10 adults, $8 children; proceeds to the filmmakers and Free West Papua Campaign.