Victor Yeimo's release from Indonesian prison unites West Papuans in the fight against racism and colonialism

September 25, 2023
Victor Yeimo welcome rally
Victor Yeimo being carried by Papuans during his welcome rally. Photo supplied

Prominent West Papuan independence activist Victor Yeimo was released from prison in Indonesia's occupied capital of West Papua on September 23, sparking a massive celebration among thousands of Papuans. His release once again ignited a spirit of unity among Papuans in their fight against what they refer to as racism, colonialism and imperialism.

On his release, Yeimo gave the following speech in front of thousands of Papuans:

"Racism is a disease. Racism is a virus. Racism is first propagated by people who feel superior. The belief that other races are inferior. The feeling that another race is more primitive and backward than others. Remember the Papuan people, my fellow students, because racism is an illness, and even patients find it difficult to detect pain caused by racism.

"Racism has been historically upheld by some scientists, beginning in Europe and later in America. These scientists have claimed that white people are inherently more intelligent and respectful than black people, based on biological differences. This flawed reasoning has been used to justify colonialism and imperialism in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, with researchers misguidedly asserting genetic and ecological superiority over other races. Therefore, there is a prejudice against other nations and races, with the belief that they are backward, primitive people, belonging to the lower or second class, who must be subdued, colonised, dominated, developed, exploited, and enslaved.

"Racism functions like a pervasive virus, infecting and spreading within societies. Colonialism introduced racism to Africa, Asia and the Pacific, profoundly influencing the perspectives and beliefs of Asians, Indonesians and archipelago communities. It's crucial to acknowledge that the enduring impact of over 350 years of racist ideology from the Dutch East Indies has deeply ingrained in generations, shaping their worldview in these regions due to the lasting effects of colonialism. Because racism is a virus, it is transmitted from the perpetrator to the victim. Colonised people are the victims.

"After Indonesia became independent, it succeeded in driving out colonialism, but failed to eliminate the racism engendered by European cultures against archipelago communities. Currently, racism has evolved into a deeply ingrained cultural phenomenon among the Indonesian population, leaving them with a sense of inferiority as a result of their history of colonisation.

"Brothers and sisters, I must tell you that it was racism that influenced Sukarno (the first President of Indonesia) to say other races and nations, including the Papuans, were puppet nations without political rights. It is racist prejudice.

"There is a perception among people from other nations, such as Javanese and Malays, that Papuans have not advanced, that they are still primitives who must be subdued, arranged and constructed. In 1961, the Papuans were building a nation and a state, but it was considered an impostor state with prejudice against the Papuans. It is important for fellow students to learn this. It is imperative that the Papuan people learn that the annexation of this region is based on racist prejudice.

"The 1962 New York Agreement, the 1967 agreement between Indonesia and the United States regarding Freeport’s work contract, and the Act of Free Choice in 1969 excluded the participation of any Papuans. This exclusion was rooted in the belief that Papuans were viewed as primitive and not deserving of the right to determine their own political fate. The decision-making process was structured to allow unilateral decisions by parties who considered themselves superior, such as the United States, the Netherlands, and Indonesia. In this arrangement, the rightful owners of the nation and homeland, the Papuan people, were denied the opportunity to determine their own political destiny. This unequal and biased treatment exemplified racism."

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Victor Yeimo speaks
Victor Yeimo addresses a huge crowd of his supporters on September 23. Photo supplied

Victor Yeimo's arrest and imprisonment

According to West Papuan media outlet, Yeimo, an international spokesperson for the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB), was unjustly convicted of treason because he was deemed to be involved in a demonstration against a racist incident at the Kamasan III Papua student dormitory in Surabaya, East Java, on August 16, 2019.

He was accused of being a mastermind behind the riots that shook West Papua, sparked by the Surabaya incident, which led to his arrest and subsequent charge of treason on February 21, last year.

However, on May 5, a panel of judges from the Jayapura District Court ruled that Yeimo was not guilty of treason. Nevertheless, the Jayapura Court of Judges found him guilty of violating Article 155, Paragraph 1 of the Criminal Code, which criminalises any person who disseminates, openly demonstrates or puts up a writing [document], where feelings of hostility, hatred or contempt against the Government of Indonesia are expressed, with intent to give publicity to the contents or to enhance the publicity thereof, shall be punished by a maximum imprisonment of four years and six months or a maximum fine of three hundred Rupiahs."

Yeimo was sentenced to eight months in prison. This verdict was controversial because Article 155, paragraph (1) of the Criminal Code was never cited in the charges against Yeimo. Furthermore, it was actually revoked by the Constitutional Court in 2007.

The Public Prosecutor and the Law Enforcement and Human Rights Coalition for Papua, acting as Yeimo's legal representatives, filed appeals against the Jayapura district court ruling, on May 12.

The Jayapura High Court overturned the district court verdict on July 5, stating that Yeimo had been proven to have committed treason, and sentenced him to one year's imprisonment.

He was released at the conclusion of his sentence.

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Victor Yeimo welcomed after his release
Victor Yeimo welcomed by thousands of Papuans in Waena stadium in Jayapura after his release on September 23. Photo supplied

International response and support

Global organisations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the Indonesian Government's treatment of Papuans and called for immediate action to address the issue of racism. They have issued statements, conducted investigations and raised awareness about the plight of Papuans, urging the international community to stand in solidarity with them.

Yeimo’s release brings new hope and strengthens Papuan's fight for independence.

Victor’s release has brought about a sense of relief and joy for his people and loved ones and has  reignited the flames of resistance against the Indonesian occupation. At the Waena Expo Arena in Jayapura City, Yeimo was greeted by thousands of people who performed traditional dances and chanted "Free West Papua!", displaying the region's symbol of resistance and independence: the Morning Star.

Thousands of Papuans have united, standing in solidarity, singing, dancing and rallying to advocate for an end to the crimes against humanity inflicted upon them.

Yeimo's bravery, determination and triumph in the face of adversity have made him a symbol of hope for many. He has inspired them to continue fighting for justice and West Papua's state sovereignty.

Papuan communities, including various branches of KNPB offices represented by Yeimo as a spokesperson, as well as activists, families and friends from seven customary regions of West Papua, are joyfully celebrating his return. Many warmly welcome him, addressing him as the "father of the Papuan nation", comrade and brother, while others express gratitude to God for his release.

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Victor Yeimo welcomed by thousands of Papuans after his release on September 23. Photo supplied

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