Free Yanto now!
Supporting a petition might seem a fairly harmless activity in most parts of the world.
But not if you are a West Papuan named Yanto Awerkion who is campaigning for their country’s independence from Indonesia.
The 27-year-old is charged with treason for his alleged involvement in a petition calling for a referendum on independence and faces up to 15 years in jail.
In the next few days, on 9 January, his case is coming to court and supporters from around the world are calling for his immediate release.
They will be making an urgent call to the authorities today and Monday before the hearing (If you would like to join this action to Free Yanto please click here).
Yanto has already spent eight months in prison, awaiting trial, and unable to see his wife and new-born baby at Christmas.
His arrest took place on 30 May last year at a peaceful prayer gathering in the West Papuan town of Timika. As a local deputy chair of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), Yanto took to the stage to announce to the crowd the news that in their region of Bomberai, 267,437 signatures had been collected.
Indonesian troops immediately raided the compound and arrested him. The armed forces involved were Indonesian military, police, Detatchment 88 (‘Anti Terror’ troops), Kopassus (Special Troops) and Intelligence Services. Yanto has been behind bars since.
The petition, which ran between May and July 2017, was outlawed by the Indonesian government, with threats of arrest and torture for anyone caught signing it. Despite such intimidation, an unprecedented 1.8 million West Papuans (70 per cent of the indigenous population) hand-signed the petition, calling for the United Nations to bring an internationally monitored independence referendum to West Papua.
An estimated 500,000 indigenous West Papuans have been killed at the hands of the Indonesian military and police over the last 60 years and the rate of genocide continues to climb.
‘Unfortunately the situation is getting worse not better,’ says Benny Wenda, himself a former political prisoner and newly elected chair of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP). Wenda was granted political asylum by the UK in 2003 and resides with his family in Oxford.
You can support the West Papua Campaign here.
And find out more about West Papua and its freedom struggle in this recent issue of New Internationalist.