The Lady with 1500 Flags


A story of bravery and patriotism

Her name is Sister Mandabayan from West Papua – a known face in the ‘Nonviolent Movement’ against colonialism in West Papua. She’d been working with many ‘Human Rights’ groups in West Papua such as the West Papuan National Authority – a leading organization in the ‘Free West Papua campaign’, and the ‘Melanesian Women Solidarity for West Papua’. A few hours ago, Sister Mandabayan’s love and dedication for the West Papuan freedom cause brought her straight into the arms of Indonesian police at Manokwari airport.

Here’s her story.

Sister Mandabayan is from Yapen Island but grew up in the city of Sorong, West Papua. She’s an active indigenous West Papuan in the ‘Nonviolent’ struggle for self-determination, and she’s not afraid of standing up for what she believes in, even it it puts her at odd with the Indonesian authority.

Arrest at Manokwari

On September 3rd, 2019, a day after four Australians were arrested and deported from West Papua by the paranoid Indonesian government, Sister Mandabayan made her way to Manokwari to team up with protesters demanding self-determination for West Papua. Flying from Sorong to Manokwari, Mrs. Mandabayan carried with her a bunch of banned items – the most feared items in Indonesia today.

After the plane touched down at Rendani Airport in Manokwari, Sister Mandabayan made her way into terminal where her bags were searched by airport authority. Officers at the airport inspected her bag and found she was carrying a bunch of illegal items – 1500 ‘Morning Star‘ flags. The Indonesian police at the airport hauled her to police vehicles and drove her to the Police Headquarters in Manokwari where she’s currently held.

The Morning Star Flag

In 1961, the Dutch administration in West Papua hoisted the ‘Morning Star’ flag as they prepared to grant West Papua full independence with their own government, legislature and constitution, but that celebration short lived as the newly established Republic of Indonesia wanted control of West Papua and began attacking Dutch forces in West Papua. After a number of failed incursions into West Papua, the Indonesian government turned to the United Nations and lobbied democratic powers to back its claim over West Papua. After a number of negotiations, which West Papuans were not allowed to participate, the Netherlands ceded control of West Papua to the United Nations. (West Papua was called Western New Guinea at the time).

After the UN took over Western New Guinea, the Indonesian government agreed to grant West Papuans the right to vote on the question of ‘self-determination’, but it was simply a sham.

In 1969, the UN handed over the security control of West Papua to Indonesia, followed by the sham election of that year known as the ‘Act of Free Choice’. During that election, 1025 West Papuans – 0.1% of the population of indigenous West Papuans, were handpicked, coached, and in some cases coerced to vote in favor of the integration of West Papuan and Indonesia. The indigenous leaders of West Papua immediately rejected the outcome of that election. To this day, majority of West Papuans refused to accept the result of that election.

For five decades, West Papuans see the ‘Morning Star’ flag as a symbol of hope. To them, it is a reminder of a freedom robbed from them by a foreign government in collusion with the UN. Every time they see that flag, it reminds them of the day when the ‘Morning Star’ flag was hoisted and West Papuan national songs were sang as they prepared for their own government. In other words, the ‘Morning Star’ is their symbol of pride – their national identity.

The Indonesian government knew this, and so, in 2007, they passed the so-called “Regulation 77” prohibiting all cultural symbols of West Papua including the West Papuan flag. That law made it illegal to hoist the flag, wear it, put it on shirts, bags, or clothes etc. Every protester carrying the flag is arrested and charged with conspiracy against the Indonesian government. It is Indonesia’s attempt to destroy the significance of that flag.

Free Sister Mandabayan

It is highly likely that sister Mandayaban knew what she was getting into by a carrying a bag full of ‘Morning Star’ flags to Manokwari. But like many of her fellow West Papuan women on the frontline, she is not scared or easily intimidated. And she’s apparently unafraid of the consequences of her actions!

As of now, we don’t know what this brave woman is going through but we know for a fact that she’s being held and subjected to harsh interrogations. And it is likely she will be brought to court to face charges.

Subversion charge

The charges of participating in a protest against Indonesia varied depending on evidence prosecutors gathered, but ‘subversion’ is the most common charge given to protestors who demand self-determination from Indonesia. Thus, we believe she will be charged with ‘subversion’ – the equivalent of ‘treason’ in Indonesian law.

A ‘subversion’ charge carries a maximum of 20 years imprisonment, but depending her history and whether the courts found her to be a serious threat to Indonesian sovereignty, her charges may be lessened. Other mitigating factors may also come into play. We, however, do not know the facts at this point.

Release Sister Mandabayan

We appeal to Indonesia to release her. Sister Mandabayan is not a threat to anyone, not even Indonesia. She’s a loving, kind woman, who feels passionate about the freedom of here people. She, like any other women, deserved to be treated differently. Carrying 1500 small flags isn’t enough to send her to prison for decades or even a few years! It’s absurd to think that the possession of small flags could cost someone’s freedom that way, but its happening in Indonesia.

We urge the Indonesian authority to release her and respect her ‘Civil Rights’, and we ask all West Papuans and friends to pray for her safety and her release.

By Herman Wainggai & Jaytee
West Papuan Human Rights
Washington, D.C

2 comments on “The Lady with 1500 Flags”

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