On 2 April TAPOL‘s call to demonstrate for the release of West Papuan political prisoners was answered around the world. Demonstrators in Edinburgh, Jayapura, Melbourne, Brisbane, the Hague, Auckland and Wellington protested together with London rights groups against the detention of 76 political prisoners, highlighting the silencing of free speech in West Papua.
At 12 noon TAPOL, together with Amnesty International UK, Survival International and Free West Papua Campaign gathered outside the Indonesian embassy in London, where demonstrators sat hand cuffed, each wearing a photo of one of the 76 Papuan prisoners, visually representing the current number of political prisoners in West Papuan jails.
TAPOL and Survival International staff addressed a crowd of 100 people, many of whom were holding placards asking the Indonesian government to ‘Free The 76.’ TAPOL broke the sad news that on that very morning in West Papua, two men had been arrested and shots had been fired by police at a similar demonstration calling for the release of Papuan political prisoners. The crackdown was emblematic of the very problem which the worldwide demonstrations were seeking to highlight.
After informing the demonstrators about arrests, cases of maltreatment and torture of political prisoners, TAPOL called for three minutes of silence. At this point, demonstrators, their hands cuffed, taped their mouths shut, symbolically representing the lack of freedom of expression in West Papua. Demonstrators sat peacefully in silence facing the Indonesian embassy, continuing the respectful silence long after the three minutes was up.
At 12.45 representatives of TAPOL and Amnesty International UK attempted to present the letter to the Indonesian Embassy, but due to the large gathering of press photographers the Embassy refused to accept the letter in person, insisting that it instead be pushed under the door.
After the letter was delivered, a message from political prisoner Dominikus Surabut, a Papuan political prisoner currently being held in Abepura jail, was distributed amongst the crowds of demonstrators, asking them to “join hands and spirits together to achieve democratic freedoms.”
Before the demonstrators dispersed, human rights activist Peter Tatchell addressed the crowd, followed by a speech from West Papuan former political prisoner and refugee Benny Wenda, leader of the Free West Papua Campaign. Benny thanked the crowd for giving hope to the prisoners and showing they were not forgotten, as he explained how acts of solidarity such as these gave him faith whilst he was imprisoned.
The 2 April global day of action for Papuan political prisoners sent a powerful message to the Indonesian government that arresting and imprisoning critics is not an acceptable feature of a democratic country.