Honorary Freedom of the City to be awarded to Benny Wenda

Benny Wenda is to be awarded the Honorary Freedom of the City at a special meeting of the Full Council to be held in Oxford Town Hall, at 5pm on 17 July.

The Lord Mayor of Oxford, Councillor Craig Simmons said: “It is my great honour as Lord Mayor to both propose and award Honorary Freedom of the City to Benny Wenda. It is a well-deserved accolade for someone who sought asylum and sanctuary in Oxford and who, along with his family, is now contributing so much both locally and on the international stage.”

Benny Wenda is an internationally-recognised diplomat and leader for the West Papua movement. Since being granted political asylum in the UK in 2002, Mr Wenda has fought tirelessly for West Papuan self-determination from his campaign headquarters in Oxford.

The Freedom is the highest honour the City of Oxford can bestow and is one of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence. It is an honorary status only, with no other rights than to attend formal council meetings, such as Annual Council, and ceremonial occasions such as civic church services.

The Lord Mayor of Oxford, Councillor Craig Simmons, will propose the Conferment of the Honorary Freedom of the City on Benny Wenda. Councillor Richard Howlett will support the Conferment before it is put to Council for a vote. The Lord Mayor will present Benny Wenda with his Freedom of the City scroll.

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council said: “Ever since Benny Wenda made Oxford his home and base for campaigning for the people of West Papua, Oxford residents and the City Council have taken his cause for their own. We are delighted to give this honour to an Oxford resident who has campaigned so tirelessly on behalf of his people.”

Benny Wenda said: “I thank Oxford City Council and people of Oxford for their generosity and support in conveying this award. When I escaped from an Indonesian prison in West Papua in 2002, Oxford was one of the first places in the world that welcomed me and my family. I was given asylum in the UK and have made Oxford my home. Oxford was one of the first to hear the cry of the West Papuan people for justice, human rights and self-determination and this award shows that the people of Oxford are listening and responding. 

“The West Papuan people know that our struggle is not just an issue for West Papuans now, but has become an issue that has touched the hearts of thousands around the world. My journey has taken me here from the jungles of West Papua and the inside of an Indonesian prison cell. But until we are able to return to an independent West Papua, my family and I are not truly free. I thank the people of Oxford for all their assistance as we work to finish our long journey home.”

Mr Wenda settled in the city after reading Oxford-resident George Monbiot’s book ‘Poisoned Arrows’, which first brought to light the story of the tribal people of western New Guinea and described the Indonesian government’s transmigration campaign to drive them off ancestral lands into poverty and starvation.

He has acted as special representative of the Papuan people in the UK Parliament, United Nations and European Parliament. In 2017 he was appointed Chairman for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), a new organisation uniting the three main political organisations struggling for the independence of West Papua.

Guests are invited to join the Lord Mayor of Oxford and councillors for a reception in the main hall following the meeting.

This press release was originally posted on the Oxford City Council website here.