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Camera ‘weapon’ of choice for West Papuan activist

West Papuan man Wensislaus Fatubun

Film crusader: Wensislaus Fatubun is bringing West Papuan stories of injustice to Australia.
Photo: Robin Williams

A YOUNG West Papuan currently in Australia is shooting video rather than bullets in his battle to fight the intimidation, torture and massacres that are regular occurrences in his homeland. 

Wensislaus Fatubun is a filmmaker and self-declared “video activist” intent on documenting the plight of his countrymen under Indonesian occupation.

But the documentaries he makes put his own life at risk.

The 34-year-old works with diocesan justice and peace offices in the five dioceses of West Papua and with similar offices in Jakarta and Kalimantan. During his time in Brisbane he met with members of that archdiocese’s Justice and Peace Commission to discuss possibilities for developing relationships with West Papuan offices.

“For me solidarity means collective memory and when we have collective memory we can fight together on justice and bring peace and also promote human rights and protect dignity,” he said.

Wensi, as he is known, was born in Mindiptana in the Boven Digoel Regency but the family soon moved for safety reasons.

“From 1972 to 1985 there was still military operations there so it was difficult for us living there,” he said.

After completing his elementary schooling Wensi moved to the Mollucas Islands to complete his high school education at a junior seminary. 

“Then I applied (to be) part of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and studied philosophy and theology,” he said.

“In 2006 I finished my philosophy and went back to West Papua to work with the office of Justice and Peace and the Archdiocese of Merauke as a brother of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.

“I worked for two years at the office for justice and peace and then I started to produce videos of the problems and human rights abuses in West Papua.”

Wensi said part of his trip to Australia was to screen the Australian premiere of his documentary “The Forgotten Struggle: A Story of The Papuans Struggle”.

He said the video detailed the Papuan struggle on Biak Island.

“I documented the activity and also their stories for three years and then edited it down to 45 minutes, so it was difficult,” he said.

The story was about the torture on Biak and the struggles, particularly for women.

“Since 1963 when Indonesian military occupied West Papua and until now Papuan people in Biak have been tortured by Indonesian military and police, raped and killed and some arrested and put in jail for a long time,” Wensi said.

He said many of the population had been severely traumatised and lived in constant fear.

“When I want to interview some victims, they cannot give more (details) of their story because of the trauma,” he said.

“So, part of premiere, I’m also telling (people) about this trauma.”

The physical and physiological trauma was inter-generational.

“In Biak we have had big massacres, in 1998 on the 6th of July, Indonesian military and police arrested many people and also killed some of them because they raised the West Papuan flag,” Wensi said.

He said the event known as the Biak Massacre was just one of a number of massacres on the island and came about because of a reform movement that subverted former Indonesian President General Suharto.

Biak people organised themselves and made a peaceful protest by raising the West Papuan flag in the water tower of Biak city but they were arrested, tortured and killed.

Wensi said his videos provided a platform for West Papuans to tell their stories.

“Also in my video I want to give a healing of the traumatic experiences of the people,” he said.

“So before I showed my documentary in Australia first I showed it to the people in West Papua so they can let it heal and they are learning from their experience and gaining strength from each other.”

Wensi said it also helped people understand the process of their struggle and that they were fighting for West Papua.

“I think this is a good process for helping Papuan peoples but difficult now for me and other young filmmakers because Indonesian military and Indonesian police are still looking for us,” he said.

“When we bring (a) camera and take some pictures during a peaceful demonstration in West Papua, police destroyed my old camera and intimidate and torture us.

“Last week one of my friends was tortured by police because he was taking pictures.”

Rather than deterring people from talking and telling their stories, Wensi said the intimidation of the filmmakers was inspiring West Papuans.

“More people want to talk and tell their stories; (even though) it is traumatic when they are telling their story,” he said. 

Wensi said since 2006 when he began working for the Justice and Peace office he has also been training and mentoring young Papuans in using cameras to document their struggle.

“I set up ‘Papuan Voices Movement’ (to help) young people ‘struggle’ with the camera, so the camera is like a weapon for telling our story and fighting our struggle,” he said.

Wensi said the videos he made were a collaborative effort – “with villagers or people in the grassroots, because, for me, it is important to collaborate because if we have collaboration we have collective memory so the spirit of the struggle cannot die”.

“It is still alive and people can continue to fight,” he said.

“One of my short documentaries called ‘Love letter to the soldier’ is about a young Papuan raped by an Indonesian army man in 2009.

“She couldn’t tell her story because of discrimination because some people think she is a military girlfriend but when she told her story and I showed it to her she said ‘Now the stone in my heart is gone’.

“Now she feels a lot better and also people in her community understand about the situation and now people in her village try to protect their young women.

“They have a rule that the military cannot visit of a night.”

Wensi said that short documentary has won several international film festival awards.

Wensi works closely with Catholic missionary groups and religious orders “to bring West Papuan human rights cases to the United Nations Human Rights Council”.

He said Catholic support for the human rights situation in West Papua was strong.

“We try and look in some way to stop the violence in West Papua,” Wensi said.

As well as working with Brisbane archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission he is also searching for a way to have Australia support West Papua in raising injustices.

Wensi said West Papuans even had struggles over the land on which they lived.

He said Indonesian and transnational companies were clearing “our forests and (taking) our land for palm oil plantations and for mining, so it is bad for us and difficult for us because they say it is to benefit us”.

Wensi said he no longer felt alone in his struggle for justice.

“Now especially with my video that I screened two days ago in Brisbane, people are paying more attention and saying ‘Okay, we can stand with Papua’,” he said.

He has asked Australians to raise West Papuan human rights issues with their local politicians.

By Robin Williams

Written by: Staff writers
Catholic Church Insurance

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