The West Papuan grandchildren are raised in extended family and find their identity and commitment to freedom in that context. I met this beautiful lady on a walk with a friend - the parting word was 'Jou Suba' – grace and peace.
Tap an [ID] button anywhere in the story to pop up an Image Description of a photo or a painting by Peter Woods
Tap an [ID] button anywhere in the story to pop up an Image Description of a photo or a painting by Peter Woods
Most biologically diverse place on Earth?
From the Nature Conservancy website: "... seas around the Raja Ampat Islands hold perhaps the richest variety of species in the world, including an incredible 75 percent of all known coral species."
Since scientists can't study West Papua freely, no one can argue with the reasonable claims that its biodiversity on land may rival Amazonia.
In 2007, the Guinness Book of World Records named Indonesia the fastest forest destroyer on the planet. In a 2008 video, Greenpeace stated that Indonesia is the world's third largest emitter of man-made greenhouse gases in the world due to uncontrolled deforestation.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, West Papua contains the largest remaining rainforest in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition to biodiversity, these forests are precious for their ability to alleviate climate change. According to a 2013 Greenpeace report and corroborated by local organizations, a major portion of the logging has been and continues to be illegal.
The illegal timber trade is, and has always been, openly conducted and controlled by the TNI (Indonesia's armed forces) who also run a host of other 'legal' and illegal (e.g., prostitution) businesses.
For incriminating video and other online reference links, see cryingfreedom.org
“thousands of years”
Historians believe that farming in West Papua may have started before Mesopotamia thousands of years ago.
Americans were the first non-Papuans to find the fertile Baliem valley. After surviving an emergency landing, they discovered a strange but hospitable people there, whom the Dutch later described as “gentle, friendly and peaceful.” (Baliem would later become and is still a stronghold of resistance against the Indonesian occupation.) The Americans observed a sophisticated system of irrigation and drainage in the Baliem Valley that supported vast tracts of agriculture in this hidden mountain region. See links to related documentaries at cryingfreedom.org
Our apologies to any person, indigenous or other, who takes exception to our use of the word “tribes”. We know it's a controversial word that for some reflects the evils of colonialism, which is what this story is all about.
We are sticking to it because West Papuans themselves use the word freely, and frankly, we couldn't think of a better word other than “nation”, which would be confusing since we use that word to mean the sovereign nation of West Papua, and not each of its surviving cultures.
The ostrich is the only bird larger than the cassowary, a flightless bird with claws it can use to disembowel a human in seconds. The birds' dung is critical to seed germination in the endangered forests in which they live.
"grubs were plentiful that day"
The larvae of the Capricorn beetle is a delicacy in West Papua, raw or roasted. It is cultivated in the pith of the sago palm trees in forest gardens. Sago was Papua's staple food before rice became predominant with the influx of Indonesian migrants. Sago and other plentiful food sources still allow many Papuan tribes to feed themselves with just two days of work a month. "Work" is a word that doesn't exist in some Papuan languages.
A Noken is a carrying bag slung across the forehead, typically woven from bark and used by many Papuan women to carry their food and sometimes their babies or piglets. (See the illustrations on the first two pages of this story.)
The Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) is Indonesia's self-funded military, often fighting against or collaborating with the Indonesian Police. The TNI's militia forces, their elite special forces "anti-terrorist" unit Kopassus, and their BIN intelligence forces, for the purposes of this story, will all be considered as branches of the same occupying force.
West Papua has the highest ratio in the world of armed military personnel to civilians (one Indonesian soldier or policeman for every 66 Papuans). For more info on the TNI, visit cryingfreedom.org.
Execution West Papua 1961 - 2011 (After Goya)
In 1814 the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya painted what has been called the first modern painting, Third May 1808 - Madrid Executions on Mount Principe Pio, and I have sought to translate the shock of this painting into a West Papuan setting. Goya's revolutionary work was a patriotic statement commemorating Spanish resistance to French control and the reprisals meted out to the rebels.
Over the last fifty years, thousands of West Papuans have been shot, bombed, poisoned, drowned, starved, dropped from helicopters at sea, run over, strangled, burnt, imprisoned, tortured, raped and subjected to a regime of fearful intimidation since the Indonesian Government established military control in West Papua.
The guilt for such a consistent program of oppression must lie at the feet of the political regime; no mere 'rogue elements' of soldiers or police can perpetuate horror for fifty years. In the background I have placed the machinery of where the money and motivation supporting the regime and the military lies: in the Freeport-McMoran mine - as the people say, Indonesia wants what Papua possesses, not Papuans. I have placed a woman at the centre, a prophetess crying aloud to those who would listen and condemning the state sanctioned murders. Peter Woods
"steepest slopes in the world"
Wikipedia states that Puncak Jaya is over 16 thousand feet above sea level, yet just 100 km from the sea. Also known as Carstensz Pyramid, it is one of the Seven Summits of the world and the world's highest island peak.
"sighed his last breath"
Benny represents perhaps half a million West Papuans systematically eliminated over the past 50 years. No one really knows how many, because no one has ever been able to conduct a proper study due to the daunting terrain and visitor restrictions enforced by Indonesian police and military.
Since 1963, Indonesia has effectively kept out journalists and film makers, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, the Red Crescent and Red Cross, and other humanitarian organizations. They've blatantly rigged rare UN visits, and punished Papuans afterward who dared speak openly with the UN representatives.
Does it matter whether the estimate of 500,000 people killed or the very conservative estimate of 100,000 is correct? Too many West Papuans have been murdered, starved, or disappeared, and too many continue to be as of 2016!
For more information, see the work of Dr. John Saltford and United Nations press releases, both referenced on our website at cryingfreedom.org.
OPM stands for Organisasi Papua Merdeka, or Free Papua Movement, started in 1965 and still very active today. Even though it is best known for its military arm (the Tentara Pembebasan Naisonal or National Liberation Army) and its strongholds in the highlands, much of the OPM is now a pacifist organization with many members in cities as well as guerilla strongholds across the nation.
It has been said that virtually all West Papuans are members of the OPM, referring to the organization's vast underground intelligence network.
"Waiting for good news"
This young woman was selling vegetables in one of the markets near the university town of Abepura at the time of the Third Papuan People's Congress. She had a calmness despite the tension and chaos of the surroundings.
"raped by soldiers"
In its 2003 annual human rights report on Indonesia, the U.S. government stated without any ambiguity that rape and other brutalities against women were being used as a weapon of war by the Indonesian military.
Dancer to an Independent Papuan Nation
Perhaps the most significant political event to occur that will move forward the cause of West Papuan self-determination is the Third West Papuan People's Congress held in October 2011.
I had decided to go there as a witness, and despite the presence along of massive military personnel and equipment, thousands gathered at the Zacceus Field in Abepura. A conch shell was blown, and a troupe of dancers emerged, led by this courageous and joyful girl carrying a ceremonial drum. Because of security concerns a friend took my camera and captured her joy and courage as she danced wearing the Morning Star flag as her dance dress. She then handed over the drum to the ones who would be later declared the President and Prime Minister of the new Federal Republic of West Papua. This was a powerful symbol of authority - the women give you this, use it bravely and wisely.
Six people were later killed, hundreds arrested and beaten up, and the leaders convicted in a (rigged) trial and imprisoned for treason.
Edison Waromi addresses the crowd at the Third Papuan People's Congress where he was elected Prime Minister of the Federated Republic of West Papua and Forkorus Yaboisembut was elected President. Both of these men and three others, called the Forkorus Five or the Jayapura Five, were behind bars for the 'crime' of treason while Vivi's story was being written.
Police take hundreds of prisoners from the third Papuan Peoples Congress, October 2011.
(Thanks to Thomson Reuters news agency for permission to use these photos.)
"terror and intimidation"
SMS death threats are sent to Christian clergy and other activists daily. Dropping off dead bodies or tortured and maimed prisoners into public places is another way the TNI have proven themselves to be the real terrorists, even though that is what they call the native freedom fighters.
For details, see the pop-up notes on the page after next for the "the TNI's Enemy List"
Indonesia erected this statue in West Papua to commemorate the nefarious 1969 Act of Free Choice. The gigantic Indonesian soldier carried by tiny West Papuans is a constant reminder of Indonesia's arrogance and disdain for Papuans as an inferior race, and the continuing subjugation of Papuans by the Indonesian military and their militias.
(Thanks to Sally Collister Photography for permission to use this photo.)
"TNI's 'Enemy List'"
In 2010, American journalist Allan Nairn released secret documents leaked from inside Kopassus (TNI Special Forces) revealing that Kopassus' strategy is to target West Papuan churches and church leaders, as well as other peaceful activists. At the top of their "enemy" list was outspoken minister and chair of the Baptist Synod, Socrates Yoman, followed by 14 other clergymen, legislators, student activists and civic leaders, including the head of the Papua Muslim Youth organization.
According to Nairn, Reverend Socrates Yoman laughed when told he headed the Kopassus list. He said churches were targeted by TNI/Kopassus because "We can't condone torture, kidnapping or killing."
Also according to Nairn, the documents described a "covert network of surveillance, infiltration and disruption of Papuan institutions" and characterized politically active civilians as "much more dangerous than" Papuan armed opposition. According to the TNI document, the armed groups "hardly do anything." The TNI fears their civilian targets might gain popular support and "reach the outside world" with their "obsession" with "merdeka" (freedom).
A link to Allan Nairn's article can be found at cryingfreedom.org, along with 2016 updates on the continuing persecution of religious leaders.
In March 2006 I re-visited West Papua and witnessed (and filmed) a student demonstration against the Freeport Mine operation. Reprisals and sweeping operations by the police and military against students for the death of some policeman and a security agent closed the university in Abepura for weeks.
While Heri was not involved in the demonstration he was one of the students who took refuge with my hosts during my time there. I was very proud of him and the other students, who exhibited an understandable fear mingled with defiance.
So the generations to come would know the truth and tell the stories (Psalm 78-4-6)
When I lived in West Papua, and in subsequent visits since, one thing has struck me and been utterly consistent - each new generation has wanted and worked for independence, freedom. It is in the milk of the mothers, it is in the play of the children, it is in the whispering of the old women, it is in the eyes of the women who look at you in the markets and the stories they repeat to the children at night. Unless Indonesia completely wipes out every last Papuan, what has happened to them will always be told and the struggle for merdeka will never be extinguished.
Ester is one of the tens of thousands of refugees who have fled across the border to Papua New Guinea since Indonesia occupied West Papua in 1963. They live in mostly desperate conditions, without land rights, humanitarian aid or recognition from the UN. Sympathetic locals or church groups provide help.
Ester was interviewed in a documentary a few years ago and is an amazing example of the women who are conscious that they must resist the tyranny of Indonesia but are caught in the bind of bearing children who most likely will be hunted and killed by Indonesian troops. Hers is a holy indignation that this should happen and a frustration at the role that women must play.
"soldiers wrought havoc"
Like many other events in our story, this really did happen in 2012. The motorcycle incident is well documented, and video of the rampage and the burnt houses after it ended is available online as referenced at cryingfreedom.org.
The Komite Nasional Papua Barat (West Papua National Committee) emerged in 2008 as an association of intrepid West Papuan students, now widely acknowledged as taking the lead in organizing prayer rallies and protests across the nation.
Twenty-two KNPB leaders were assassinated in 2012, and the extrajudicial killing continues in 2016. See the links at cryingfreedom.org for documentaries and undercover news footage on the KNPB.
My young men are fallen by the sword (Lamentations 2.22)
I have sought to convey the pain of so many mothers left behind when their loved ones are killed. Derek Adii was travelling from the northern West Papuan town of Nabire with his mother on a boat in May last year when he intervened in a dispute between four soldiers and some passengers. He was subsequently stabbed and thrown into the sea and his floating body was recovered later. His distraught mother said that he had just been employed to work for a government agency.
No soldier has been charged for his death.
Densus 88 or Detachment 88 is a special anti-terrorist unit of the Indonesian police. It is funded and trained by foreign governments (such as Australia) in spite of the well- documented atrocities they have committed against peaceful civilians.
To watch a televised undercover documentary exposing their criminal acts, see the links at cryingfreedom.org.
A 2013 academic report details an intentional genocide against the indigenous people of West Papua carried out by the Indonesian government. The report, "A slow-motion genocide: Indonesian rule in West Papua", was written by Dr. Jim Elmslie and Dr. Camellia Webb-Gannon, both visiting scholars at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University. It was published in the Griffith Journal of Law and Human Dignity, and uses the term "slow-motion" because thousands of West Papuans have been killed over decades rather than in a large-scale event over a short period.
Elmslie says the report concludes the Indonesian Government has carried out genocidal policies for the past 50 years. Referring to the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention, examples of genocidal acts listed are: killings, causing serious bodily and mental harm, the deliberate infliction of conditions of life calculated to cause the destruction of a group, and the forcible removal of children to another group.
Act of NO Choice
At the time of the so-called “Act of Free Choice”, General Suharto is quoted as saying “West Irian [West Papua] is Indonesian. The vote will be a mere formality.”
Suharto later became President Suharto, who retired with tens of billions of dollars after 31 years as dictator of a country that Transparency International annually ranked in the top three most corrupt countries in the world. Members of his family came away with billions more.
A related quote is from General Ali Murtopo, addressing the voters, who said, “If you want to be independent, you can ask God to find you another island in the Pacific. Or, perhaps write to the Americans. They have already set foot on the moon, and might find you a place there. If you vote against Indonesia, your accursed tongues will be torn out, and the full vengeance of the Indonesian people will be upon you. We will shoot you on the spot.”
"Uncle Clem and his colleague, Wim"
Our website at cryingfreedom.org contains links to videos where you can watch the real Clemens Runawery and Wim Zonggonau telling their story.
"no fuss at the UN"
Links to US state documents substantiating this damning account are provided at cryingfreedom.org.
Protests then and now: Left – a photo from 1969 during the Act of (No) Free Choice. Right – exiled West Papuans in Oxford, UK show their support for International Lawyers for West Papua and the Free West Papua Campaign, 2011
Act of Free Choice I
The 1969 process which delivered West Papua to Indonesia was called the Act of Free Choice, but was was neither free nor involved choice. Rather than a free vote, chosen representatives were bribed, threatened and intimidated, while any dissenters were incarcerated. Observers at the time were appalled by the farce administered and signed off by the United Nations.
The fact that West Papua was named a special military zone from the beginning, and remains so until today, is plain evidence that the Papuans have never accepted this appalling injustice. So my title to this work is ironic. It features some of the faces of my students who were young when I taught them over thirty years ago, many of whom asked me for help in getting freedom. Peter Woods
Many of us were slaughtered
While bordering Papuan tribes would hold ritual battles from time to time, they rarely happen now. Until Indonesia invaded, very few of West Papua's hundreds of tribes attempted to totally annihilate another tribe. In fact, anthropologists tell us that raids and battles would typically take no more than one life.
Disputes typically lasted up to a few days and would commonly end in both villages celebrating with a peace-making feast where the victor slaughters and prepares one of their pigs for the guest tribe. We may see these people as primitive, but in my mind, these customs are far more civilized than nuclear warfare and drone attacks.
Yes, these conflicts between some tribes sometimes did include cannibalism and headhunting. But they were often one-time rights of passage and included a reciprocal arrangement where the killer adopted the victim's family as their own. Traditionally, family members in many Papuan tribes can be highly exchangeable, and, like the rest of Melanesia, a strict kastom (custom) is often followed.
Timor-Leste had just been given back to the Timorese
See the reference to East Timor in Historical Events, 1999.
Ten times over 24 years, the United Nations declared Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor illegal. After East Timor (now “Timor Leste”) was finally granted a vote on independence, partly due to a crash in the Asian economy, militia gangs went on a rampage with guns and machetes - even with UN observers present. Militias did virtually all of the killing, openly supported by the Indonesian military and police in a spree that finally gained East Timor international media attention.
The most visible militia leader in East Timor, Eurico Guterres, moved on to actively organize jihadist training camps to terrorize the people of West Papua (as filmed in 2005). The police and army officers he worked with were also re-assigned to West Papua. For example, indicted war criminal Col. Burhanuddin Siagian, assigned to West Papua in 2007, arrived threatening to “destroy” anyone who “betrays” Indonesia.
Land of Peace
The Land of Peace is a detailed conceptual vision of a peaceful future for West Papua, formally endorsed by all of the major religions in West Papua. A set of eight underlying values were articulated, as documented by Father Neles Tebay in his inspiring publication, Interfaith Endeavours for Peace in West Papua.
Indonesia's offer of Special Autonomy was a ruse to make West Papuans believe Indonesia was willing to negotiate the terms of occupation and give West Papuans more of a say in determining their own fate. This lie has effectively deterred criticisms from other nations for more than a decade, and continues to split West Papuans and their international supporters' strategies. A number of West Papuans still hold out hope for Special Autonomy, even though it has been an abject failure to date, by any account, as confirmed by Indonesia's last President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
In 2014, new Indonesian legislation called Special Autonomy Plus was passed to perpetuate the ruse and give the impression that Indonesia was trying something new to improve the situation. This way, West Papuan appeals to the international community can continue to be dismissed by countries who choose to support the status quo rather than the obvious truth that the offer of Special Autonomy has always been insincere.
For more detail, see Historical Events 2001 and 2010 in the Epilogue, plus updates on our website.
The Indonesian word Merdeka (Freedom/Independence) has become the West Papuan rallying cry, shouted at virtually every protest, and is used with reverence in their personal conversations.
It may seem ironic that an Indonesian word unifies West Papuans in their struggle against Indonesian oppression. However, for the past fifty years, Indonesia has only allowed Bahasa Indonesia in West Papuan schools, and Papuan tribes would otherwise speak hundreds of distinct languages (not just dialects). West Papuans have embraced a common language that now allows them to organize nationwide and call for their freedom with one voice. Papua Merdeka!
I was born naked... I just want independence.
This is a direct quote from a real chief depicted in a documentary by the late Mark Worth, who died just two days after a major Australian television station announced his film's premiere. Narrated by Rachel Griffiths, Land of the Morning Star took ten years to complete, and is one of the most moving and comprehensive documentaries ever made about West Papua.
Other parts of our story were also taken directly from the words of West Papuans interviewed in a number of other films. For a list of related documentaries and links to many online, visit cryingfreedom.org.
The Message of the Morning Star
The Morning Star flag has powerfully symbolised the West Papuans' quest for self-determination since 1961. Most West Papuans believe that God will listen to their cries, finally rescue them and bring them justice. In this painting I have sought to express how West Papuans, and certainly myself, find strength in the experience of God's people in the Bible and the words of the prophets, Christ and the apostles for the ultimate righting of wrongs and the establishment of God's new order of justice, love and peace.
From a speech by Chief Theys Eluay in 1998...
"The truth is that we have never been part of Indonesia, so we aren't leaving. The truth is that Indonesia attached itself to the Papuan people like a parasite... If we are to advance our struggle towards gaining our independence, we need to pursue it within the corridor of peace and love."
From a speech by President Theys Eluay in 2001, just before he was assassinated...
"Our flag hasn't flown for so many years. We're in the midst of an evil nation. In the mouth of a tiger. But it's God's will. Our prayers that the flag will fly will be answered. I'm prepared to go to my grave, but the flag will fly."
Indonesia's current (2016) Minister of Defence, General Ryamazad Ryacudu, is well known to Papuans. Following the conviction of TNI personnel in what the Indonesian court described as the "torture-murder" of Papuan political leader Theys Eluay in November 2001, Ryacudu described the murderers as "heroes" for their cold-blooded killing of the peaceful advocate for Papuan self-determination, the man West Papuans had elected as their President less than a year before his death.
detained many students for interrogation
The attacks, arrests and interrogations actually started in late August 2012 and continued over the month of September. The TNI, the police and their Densus 88 counter-terrorist unit converged on the student dormitories of Cenderawasih University in Abepura, attacking and detaining students accused of having connections with the KNPB - in essence, terrorizing the entire campus for weeks.
Students reported horrific tortures while in custody, and a number of them were maimed or killed.
West Papuans have been living with two realities since 1963 when Indonesia assumed control of West Papua. One is the culture of violence of the military control of their nation. The other is the quiet dignity that Papuans maintain, especially in the faith and hope they cling to in the church community.
In the central character I wanted to honour the late Dr. Hans Wospakrik, a brilliant Papuan scientist and friend we knew in Bandung who briefly shared our home in 1977.
Grandmother and grandson
The West Papuan grandchildren are raised in extended family and find their identity and commitment to freedom in that context. I met this beautiful lady on a walk with a friend - the parting word was 'Jou Suba' - grace and peace.
"selling weapons and intelligence systems to the TNI"
The United States, Great Britain, Australia, Germany and many other nations have not only sold high-tech weapons, aircraft, tanks and surveillance equipment to Indonesia - they also provide the money to buy it, in the form of government loans or grants.
If you are a citizen of such a country and concerned about this misuse of your tax dollars, visit our website for some ideas on what you can do, including petitions to stop selling Indonesia weapons used against the people of West Papua.
Wamena Protest: While Vivi's story is about the December 1st protest in the Papuan capital city of Jayapura, huge demonstrations are held every year in all major centres of West Papua – such as this march in the central highlands town of Wamena. Note the bottom photo showing Indonesian police filming the event.
Liberty Papua Leading the People (After Delacroix)
This diptych (two-part painting) is inspired by my long-time favourite painting of Eugene Delacroix celebrating the revolution of the people in France in early 19th century. I had the privilege of seeing this masterpiece again in the Louvre last year - my Papuan translation of the depiction of the overthrow of tyranny is a quarter the size of the Delacroix original!
The people depicted in my painting are all real people, whether alive or dead. The heroine flying the Morning Star flag was on the outrigger canoe of refugees who braved the ocean to come to Australia in 2006 highlighting the struggle of the people. They all have their stories like the man in the lower right hand corner, Yawan Wayeni. He was filmed as he was dying after being shot by Indonesian military whilst unarmed in his garden. The Youtube reports show he was defiant, brave and faithful to the end.
The spectre of the Freeport mine is glimpsed behind the smoke. Founding Indonesian President Soekarno's horrific statue, erected in Jakarta to laud the 'liberation' of ‘West Irian' in 1963, is seen collapsing, the chains still binding the 'Papuan' supposedly depicted. The people hold each other, cultural symbols and peaceful weapons of protest rather than arms.
Nela's husband's blood soaks the ground but she still wants freedom. Biak Massacre 1998
In 1998 a large group of people in Biak city in West Papua joined Filep Karma in a demonsration for independence. They gathered near the water tower and hung up banners and sang Christian hymns. After some days, despite the democracy movement gaining momentum in Java, police, army and navy units joined forces to violently break up this peaceful protest.
Eye witness accounts give evidence that up to two hundred men women and children were rounded up, from the demonstrators and those nearby, and killed. Many were taken out to the two ships anchored in the harbour. Nela's husband is the only person who is acknowledged by Indonesia as having died. In her interview she is tragically defiant, and I have used her own words to title the painting.
Karma has been languishing in gaol seriously ill and is 5 years into a 15 years sentence for treason against Indonesia. No one was held responsible for this massacre. The survivors have either gone silent with shame or are cynical about any hope for justice from Indonesia or the world's governments.
Ibu is a term of respect Papuans, and Melanesians in general, use when addressing esteemed or senior women. Auntie is a term of familiarity or endearment frequently used to refer to an older woman who may not be related by blood.
Chewing pinang or the areca nut, together with betel leaf (sirih) and lime paste, is an important cultural tradition for West Papuans. It often distinguishes them from Indonesians. Positive claims are made for it but recently it has unfortunately been shown to be cancer causing. Selling the pinang is a means of income and constitutes something of a micro-economy for West Papuan women. The women keep the family going through enterprises like this when the men are imprisoned or absent – I spoke with one woman whose husband was in gaol for seven years for his political defiance. She sold pinang and vegetables to put the kids through school for all that time.
Arnold Ap was a West Papuan anthropologist and musician whose life work was crucial to preserving Papuan stories and songs, and to keeping their culture alive. He was one of West Papua's earliest and best-loved national heroes, arrested and assassinated in 1984 by Indonesian 'security forces'. His name is often mentioned to this day.
It is characteristic of West Papuans that they revere musicians and cultural icons rather than their military heroes.
I would weep day and night for the slain of my people (Jeremiah 9.1)
Another bride widowed to the brutality of Indonesian security forces. I painted this in one evening and felt that I had captured the pathos and strength of this young woman.
Cross over to the other side
On January 18, 2006, after an epic journey of 425km in a traditional dugout canoe, 43 West Papuans landed on a remote Queensland beach on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula in the northern part of Australia. This brought more attention to the West Papuan issue to Australians than any other incident since the 1960's. Withdrawal of the Indonesian Ambassador from Australia after protection visas were given to the asylum seekers prolonged the media focus.
I have been involved with the asylum seekers upon their coming to Melbourne, and hosted them for their first Sunday service upon arrival in Melbourne at St Andrew's Anglican Church, Somerville, where I was parish priest on Thanksgiving.
I wanted to convey that it was both desperation and faith that motivated these people to risk their lives to leave their homeland. The centre character holding one of his sons is the organiser of the escape, the activist Herman Wainggai.
(Painting purchased by St Hilary's Anglican Church, Kew, Melbourne, a church community supporting the West Papuan refugees and their cause for justice.)
"most biologically diverse place on Earth"
From the Nature Conservancy website: "... seas around the Raja Ampat Islands hold perhaps the richest variety of species in the world, including an incredible 75 percent of all known coral species."
Since scientists can't study West Papua freely, no one can argue with the reasonable claims that its biodiversity on land might also rival Amazonia.