Benny Wenda is a West Papuan tribal leader and an advocate for the human rights and freedoms of West Papua’s people. A leading figure in the region’s independence movement, he served as a special representative of the West Papuan people to both the British Parliament and the United Nations. He was detained in 2002 by the Indonesian government on accusations of inciting violence and arson, but escaped during his trial and was granted political asylum in the U.K. After arriving in the U.K., Wenda founded the Free West Papua Campaign to spread awareness of the human rights situation in West Papua.
Wenda is founder of International Lawyers for West Papua and International Parliamentarians for West Papua. Growing up in the remote highlands of West Papua, Wenda and his family spent five years hiding in the jungle after the Indonesian military violently seized control of his homeland in 1977. In 1983, after the majority of their community returned to live under Indonesian rule, his parents decided to return so that their children could attend school.
After graduating from university, Wenda became the secretary-general of the Koteka Tribal Assembly. Wenda protested against the repression of West Papuans’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and spoke out against the imprisonment of individuals for taking part in nonviolent demonstrations and expressing their opinions.
As a result of his growing prominence, Wenda was subjected to higher scrutiny by the occupying Indonesian government. In 2002, he was arrested and accused of inciting violence and arson, his home was ransacked and searched without a warrant, and authorities refused to inform him of the charges brought against him. He was tortured by police and held in solitary confinement for several months. During his trial, Wenda was physically attacked several times by prison guards. Fearing that he would not be given a fair trial and that he might be killed before a decision was rendered, Wenda escaped and fled to the neighboring region of Papua New Guinea.
He was granted political asylum with his family in the U.K., where he launched the Free West Papua campaign, dedicated to raising awareness of the human rights situation in West Papua and promoting basic rights and self-determination for West Papuans through the development of civil society. The campaign works to expose human rights abuses taking place under Indonesian rule, as all foreign media and most international organizations are banned in West Papua.