Jayapura – Victor Yeimo, leader and political figure of the West Papuan independence struggle, has just been awarded the 2023 "Voltaire Empty Chair Award". The international award in the field of human rights was given to Yeimo by the Australian organistion Liberty Victoria on Friday November 10.
The spokesperson for the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) and the Papuan People's Petition (PRP), according to libertyvictoria.org.au, received the award for his persistent struggle for human rights, freedom of speech and civil liberties in West Papua, and because he was considered a strong fighter for West Papuan independence from Indonesia.
It was noted that Yeimo has gone through a long struggle, having been arrested repeatedly, thrown into a police cell, charged with treason and being tried when he was seriously ill. He has been in and out of Indonesian prison many times.
Liberty Victoria is Australia's longest-standing civil liberties organisation which for the last seven years has continued to aggressively fight for civil and human rights in the world.
Since being established in 2016, the Voltaire Empty Chair Award has been given to people deemed worthy of receiving it even though they have sometimes not been able to attend in person as a consequence of their defense of human rights, freedom of speech or civil liberties.
Victor Yeimo, a pro-independence activist and staunch human rights defender was once placed on the police's wanted persons list (DPO) by Indonesian authorities after he led a demonstration in Jayapura against racism directed at Papuan students in Surabaya on August 16, 2019,
He has been arrested and imprisoned three times – in October 2009, May 2013 and May 2021 – for exercising his civil rights in leading peaceful demonstrations.
Yeimo's most recent arrest and imprisonment was on charges of makar (treason, subversion, rebellion) for leading a peaceful protest against racial discrimination in West Papua in 2019. Yeimo was placed in solitary confinement for three months and denied access to his lawyers, family and even medical treatment. His health had deteriorated during the trial process.
In May 2023, the Jayapura District Court ruled that Yeimo had violated the Criminal Code (KUHP) on the pretext that he has disseminated prohibited information. However the was verdict was annulled in July 2023 and he was sentenced to one year in prison.
After serving 28 months in prison, Yeimo was finally released from the Jayapura Penitentiary on Saturday November 23, 2023. Thousand of Papuans took to the streets to greet him and held a parade to Waena to celebrate his release.
During the award ceremony, Liberty Victoria stated, "We are proud to announce that the 2023 Voltaire Empty Chair Award was awarded to Mr. Victor Yeimo, a strong supporter of West Papua's independence from Indonesia and international spokesperson for the West Papua National Committee and the Papuan People's Petition”.
“We are honored that Mr Victor Yeimo has received the 2023 Liberty Victoria Vacant Chair award.”
Comments by Victor Yeimo
After receiving the award, Yeimo spoke about racism in Indonesia, which he said was deeply rooted.
"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", said Yeimo.
"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 developed into a deeply ingrained cultural phenomenon in Indonesian society, leaving them with a sense of inferiority as a result of their history of colonisation."
Yeimo also said that the struggle by the people of the West Papuan nation will never end.
"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 were without the participation of the Papuan people. This exclusion was rooted in the belief that Papuans were viewed as primitive and not entitled to the right to determine their own political fate."
- See:Thousands turn out to welcome Papua activist Victor Yeimo's release from prison. Suara Papua – September 23, 2023
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Gigih Perjuangkan HAM Papua, Victor Yeimo Raih Penghargaan Voltaire Empty Chair".]