Benny Wenda, the newly-declared president of the interim government of West Papua, lives in exile in Oxford after escaping imprisonment in Indonesia.
Today, West Papuans declared they would form a ‘provisional government-in-waiting’ for their homeland region, which is currently split into two provinces under the control of Indonesia.
Mr Wenda leads a campaign called United Liberation Movement for West Papua, which aims to transform the provinces into an independent nation, free of Indonesian rule.
While protests in support of independence took place across eight cities in Indonesia, Mr Wenda and supporters gathered in central Oxford to raise awareness of the cause.
The number of supporters was intentionally restricted and social distancing was maintained, to comply with rules about gatherings during the current lockdown.
The four who showed up waved the West Papuan flag, known as the Morning Star, which also flies from the top of Oxford Town Hall every December 1.
The morning star on the roof of the town hall
The date is an important day for West Papuans, who declared independence from Dutch colonial rule on December 1 in 1961.
The declaration of the new government was also held on the same date because of its importance.
The group at Carfax also handed out cakes emblazoned with ‘Free West Papua’ to passersby in an attempt to start up conversations about Mr Wenda’s cause.
At one point early in the morning, two homeless men living in sheltered accommodation approached the group to ask for a cake.
After spotting the message on the icing in the tasty treats they began to speak to the newly-nominated president about his cause.
In a statement released to coincide with the announcement about the new West Papuan government, Mr Wenda said: “Today, we honour and recognise all our forefathers who fought and died for us by finally establishing a united government-in-waiting.
“Embodying the spirit of the people of West Papua, we are ready to run our country. As laid out in our provisional constitution, a future Republic of West Papua will be the world’s first Green State, and a beacon of human rights – the opposite of decades of bloody Indonesian colonisation.
“Today, we take another step towards our dream of a free, independent and liberated West Papua.”
While Mr Wenda has been named as the leader of a Free West Papua, the rest of the government in waiting is yet to be nominated. This will likely take place next year.
Mr Wenda was granted political asylum in the UK in 2003, after escapinng prison in Indonesia, where he had been arrested for leading protests.
He then became the leader of the Free West Papua campaign in the UK, formed by several pro-Papuan activists in Oxford in 2004.
Last year the Papuan leader was granted the freedom of Oxford.
Speaking outside Carfax Tower yesterday, Mr Wenda said he had come to think of Oxford as a ‘second home’.
He said: “I feel that Oxford is my second home and I believe the people of Oxford will support me so that I can go back to my home as a free man.”
The indigenous Papuans are a different ethnic group to other people in Indonesia.
Though they declared independence in 1961, their land was incorporated into Indonesia after a referendum in 1969.
According to the news agency Reuters, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry has rejected the declaration of a West Papuan government.
It has previously described the West Papuan Independence campaign as a separatist movement.