An Interpol red notice has been issued for the arrest of the Oxford-based leader of an Asian separatist movement, triggering allegations of political abuse of the international police alert system.
Benny Wenda, 37, who has been granted asylum and has lived in the UK since 2003, fears that if he travels abroad he could be detained and returned to Indonesia, where he is a wanted man.
Wenda, head of the Free West Papua movement, claims the charges against him have been trumped up in order to silence him. Fair Trials International is supporting him and calling for greater accountability of the police notice system which, it claims, has become “a legal black hole”.
It is not the first time, according to the civil liberties group, that an Interpol red notice has been issued for the arrest of a political opponent or deployed to prevent someone from travelling.
An Interpol red notice requires police forces to “seek the arrest or provisional arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition”.
Wenda, whose wife, Maria, and six children live with him in Oxford, was a tribal leader in West Papua, a province of Indonesia, which separatists say was forcibly occupied in the 1960s when the Dutch left the region.
His home village was bombed, he was injured and his relatives killed. After leaving university, he led a group which promoted West Papuan customs but had to flee on several occasions to neighbouring Papua New Guinea.
In 2002 he was arrested in West Papua and charged with inciting an attack on a police station. None of the witnesses called at his trial turned up, according to legal observers who were present. He denied participating in any attack.
Wenda was jailed but, after what he believes were several failed attempts on his life, he decided to escape. “I broke into a ventilation shaft and crawled out,” Wenda, who is now a UK citizen, told the Guardian. “I crossed into Papua New Guinea and reached the UK in 2003. “[Indonesians] knew that if I was free I would promote the struggle for [independence] and tell about the suffering of my peoples. Indonesia has committed crimes. In East Timor, there were 100,000 deaths; in West Papua there have been 400,000.”
Wenda, who insists he supports a peaceful transition to self-rule for his native land, had been travelling widely to gather support for his movement. “I had been at a conference in Senegal,” he explained, “and when I came back I looked online and found my name and saw I had a red notice. This is Indonesia intimidating me. They are trying to limit my movement.
“No one has tried to arrest me and I’ve had no approach from the [UK] police. I have not travelled about since then. [Indonesia] says I’m a criminal but I’m campaigning for my people. I would like to see the red notice removed so that I can continue my campaign.”
Indonesia does not have an extradition treaty with the UK. Any extradition request is unlikely to succeed, given that Wenda was granted political asylum.
Jago Russell, chief executive of Fair Trials International, said: “Of course police have to work across borders to fight crime but they should not be allowed to operate in a legal black hole. Despite the major human impact of Interpol red notices, there is no effective way to challenge cases of abuse. As a result refugees like Benny Wenda, who have travelled half way around the world to escape persecution, continue to be threatened from afar by oppressive governments.”
Interpol denied that its notice system was subject to political interference. “There are safeguards in place,” a spokeswoman at the organisation’s headquarters in Lyon said. “The subject of a red notice can challenge it through an independent body, the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF). It is up to Mr Wenda or his representatives to contact the CCF.” If persuaded that it was not valid, the commission would remove a notice, she added.
A spokesman for the Indonesian embassy in London said: “Mr Wenda should answer to the crimes that he has committed in a free and independent court in Indonesia. Then he can prove whether or not he is guilty.”
The Indonesian government accuses Wenda of being part of the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka – OPM), which it claims is “a clandestine organisation dedicated to secede from Indonesia using any means available to them including killings of innocent civilians and destruction of private properties”.
[ http://eminews.blog.com/2011/11/28/interpol-criticised-over-attempt-to-arrest-asian-separatist-leader/ ]
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