The National, Wednesday 30th November 2011
By DANNY SHAW
A TRADITIONAL leader from the Indonesian province of Papua, bordering Papua New Guinea, who has been granted asylum in the United Kingdom has been named on an Interpol wanted list.
Benny Wenda, who is 36 and living in Oxford, leads a movement for the independence of West Papua.
Indonesia wants to put him on trial for several offences he is alleged to have committed before he left, including murder and arson.
However, Wenda said the charges were “made up” and politically motivated.
Charles Foster, a lawyer who is supporting him, said the move by the Indonesian authorities was designed to stop Wenda arguing his case for independence.
West Papua shares a 700km land border with Papua New Guinea.
Foster said: “It’s plainly affecting his ability to go around the world, doing the job which he set himself and his people have set him, which is saying to Indonesia ‘you have an obligation to have a free and fair election in West Papua and that the continued annexation of West Papua, Indonesia, is illegal under international law’.”
The government accepted Wenda’s asylum application in 2002 after hearing allegations he had been persecuted by the Indonesian authorities.
Wenda had been arrested for his alleged involvement in an attack on a police station.
He claimed that during his detention he was held in appalling conditions and threatened and beaten by prison guards and intelligence officers, who had tried to kill him.
His subsequent trial was said by an observer to be “riddled with corruption”.
However, Wenda managed to escape from the country and fled to the UK, eventually settling in Oxford with his wife and six children, and was granted British citizenship.
It has now emerged that earlier this year he was issued with a red notice by Interpol at the request of the Indonesians.
A red notice acts as an alert to Interpol’s 190 member countries that an individual is wanted by another country.
Anyone subject to it can be arrested and is liable to be extradited.
In Wenda’s case, Interpol said the red notice was issued by Papua Regional Police CID for “crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives”.
“When I saw this it really made me scared,” Wenda told BBC.
“This is Indonesia watching me, even here. That was shocking me you know,” he said.
Foster said travelling outside the UK would in future be “risky” for Wenda.
“Whenever he goes across a border his name is likely to flash up on the screen of the immigration officials and he’s likely to be ushered into a little room for questioning,” he said.
“Of course, the politics of that country will determine to some extent what happens after that.”
An Indonesian embassy official in London said Wenda belonged to a “clandestine organisation dedicated to secede from Indonesia using any means available to them” and was wanted on suspicion of offences including murder and arson.
Billy Wibisono, third secretary (information and socio-cultural affairs), said: “Wenda and several other accomplices participated in an attack of the Abepura police station on Dec 7, 2000, and caused the deaths and destruction of property.”
Abepura is a popular market town near the PNG border on Wutung, West Sepik, patronised by PNG shoppers.
He said six police officers and civilians died in the attack, and that several government buildings and other premises were damaged.
“Weapons, firearms and munitions were stolen from the police station,” Wibisono said, adding that the red notice would be withdrawn if Wenda “can prove his innocence in our court of law”.
Wenda said the allegations were “completely made up” and that he had always been a peaceful campaigner for independence.
“I was not even in the country at the time and Indonesia could not find a single independent witness against me. It is these political-motivated charges that meant the UK gave me asylum but, years later, Indonesia is still threatening me with them,” he said.
Jago Russell, chief executive of Fair Trials International, which is backing Wenda, is calling on Interpol to withdraw the red notice.
“There are a number of countries which are using Interpol red notices against political opponents, or freedom fighters, so clearly Indonesia is in the case of Benny Wenda,” said Russell.
He said red notices had been issued on behalf of the Syrian and Iranian authorities and that Col Gaddafi used the scheme in Libya.
“There certainly is a pattern of it having been used for political purposes even though it is expressly stated in the constitution of Interpol that that’s not what it should be used for,” he said.
Interpol refused to comment on Wenda’s case but released a statement saying that red notices were issued only when details of a valid arrest warrant were provided by the requesting country.
“Interpol’s role is not to question allegations against an individual, nor to gather evidence, so a red notice is issued based on a presumption that the information provided by the police is accurate and relevant,” it said.
The agency added red notices would be withdrawn where the information provided was insufficient or “not convincing”.