West Papuans swimming for freedom

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West Papuans swimming for freedom

Six people are taking a very important message for the UN across Lake Geneva in a very unusual way, writes Danny Chivers.


West Papuan campaigner Yanto Awerkion. He was arrested in June 2017 because he got people to sign a petition. Image from Benny Wenda

Could you swim for 30 hours? Six people are preparing to do that now across the 69 kilometres of Lake Geneva. On Monday 28 August, they will swim across and take a message from more than 160,000 people to the UN’s headquarters.

This is part of the Free West Papua campaign. The swimmers want people to know about the fight of the Indigenous West Papuan people against Indonesian occupation. The online international petition asks the UN to take action to end the abuse of human rights in West Papua and give the people there the vote that they could not have in 1969.

There is now more international support for the freedom of West Papua. But Indonesia has banned the petition. If people sign it in Indonesia or in West Papua, they could be arrested.

Yanto Awerkion, of the West Papua independence group the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), was arrested on 23 June by Indonesian security services at a rally and prayer session to get people interested in the petition. He is still in prison, and he has made a video about his experiences. It is a big risk to sign the petition, but thousands of West Papuans have signed it.

Joel Evans had the idea for the Swim for West Papua. He said, ‘Other countries have not seen what is happening in West Papua for nearly fifty years. Hundreds of thousands have died, been tortured, arrested, beaten and imprisoned. Indonesia is trying to cover up a genocide, with the help of its Western allies. We hope this swim can help the Papuans in their fight for freedom and to decide on its own government.’

Benny Wenda, a Papuan tribal leader (who speaks for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua and refugee with asylum in Oxford, England) said, ‘This swim is an important moment in our long path to freedom. The swim team are helping to show the world the situation in West Papua – the world’s longest and most brutal military occupations. Tens of thousands of West Papuans are supporting them. They signed the petition even with the risk of arrest and torture.’

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/blog/2017/08/25/swim-freedom-west-papua (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).

Read more about West Papua here: