Pacific Media Watch

18 May 2015

GLOBAL: Activists step-up after US denies West Papuan leader entry

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Benny Wenda hopes US officials respond soon. Image: PNG Loop

PORT MORESBY (PNG Post-Courier/ Radio Australia/ Pacific Media Watch): Free West Papua campaigners in California are now even more determined to raise the voice that Indonesia seeks to silence after the US Office of Homeland Security stopped West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda from boarding a Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Los Angeles last week.

After check-in, staff found an alert on their passport system and Wenda was questioned by an official from the US Homeland Securities bureau office at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Wenda told the official: "I am a human rights campaigner from West Papua, I am exiled and am campaigning for West Papua".

After making phone calls, the US official told Wenda that his US visa had been revoked, but declined to say why and told him to contact the US embassy.

Wenda was issued the ten year business visa in October 2014 and has already made one visit to Congress staff on Capitol Hill in Washington using it.

Speaking tour
He was set to embark on a speaker tour of California and Hawai'i at the invitation of US groups supporting the Free West Papua Campaign.

Pending an explanation from the US Government, the busy two-week schedule of events is moving forward without him.

Wenda hopes that US officials respond to his situation soon so that he can join the tour.

"Concern is growing from people, politicians and UN officials in the United States about the ongoing genocide in West Papua," he said.

"I am keen to follow-through their invitation to address these audiences and to urge political action by the US Government".

Wenda has travelled to the US before for meetings with political representtaives and churches, who approved of his lobbying and campaigning work.

"So you can imagine my surprise when my 10-year visa was revoked without notice," he said.

Other visa issues
Wenda has also had recent visa problems in Papua New Guinea and the US in the past.

In 2005 and 2013, he had visa applications refused and then went on to successfully apply for his current 10-year business visa.

He told Radio Australia of his concerns.

"I don't have any evidence to blame anyone, but everyone knows why I don't have any freedom, even in a democratic country like UK or PNG or anywhere I go, I don't have any freedom. And this is the so-called Western world and the democratic countries, but I'm always finding out I'm not free."

He said there was nothing "provocative" in his visits to provoke suspicion in the US - he campaigns "peacefully".  

"That's my way of doing and trying to educate the world to understand about my people's struggle for freedom and justice and democracy."

International movement
Free West Papua campaigners are stepping up their campaign in the wake of the blocking of Wenda.

Attempts to get answers by the Free West Papua Campaign in both London and Washington have so far been unsuccessful.

The FWPC is keen to know why Benny Wenda’s legitimate right to free speech in the US has been quashed and is working to try and get his visa reinstated and hopes that the issue is no more than a bureaucratic hiccup.    

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Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

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