Thom Wainggai

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Thomas Wapai N.S Wainggai
Born December 5, 1937
Netherlands New Guinea
Died 12 March 1996
Resting place Jayapura, West Papua
Alma mater [1]
Employer Cenderawasih University
Known for Candidate for Governor of West Papua[1]
Home town Jayapura
Movement Republic of West Melanesia
Criminal charge Subversion
Criminal penalty
  • 20 years prison term
  • Arrested: 14 December 1988
  • Died: 2 March 1996
Spouse(s) Teruko Wainggai
Children 3 (2 boys, 1 girl)
Relatives Herman Wainggai (Nephew)

Thomas Wapai N.S Wainggai (also known as Dr. Thom) was a West Papuan scholar, political and cultural leader, philosopher, and nationalist; a true advocate of West Papuan self-determination and Melanesian identity. He was born and raised in Hollandia, Netherlands New Guinea, where he spent his young days. He became the first West Papuan to get an advanced education outside of West Papua. In 1988, he was arrested for his political beliefs and teachings and was sentenced to two decades behind bars. In 1996, he died as a political prisoner in an Indonesian prison.[2]


Dr. Thom grew up and went to school in his hometown of Jayapura, West Papua. After high school, he enrolled at the Cenderawasih university - one of the leading universities in West Papua.[2] At Cenderawasih university, Dr. Thom excelled. He built up good grades and was selected for the exchange program in Japan. He graduated with a degree in Law at the Okayama University. He then traveled to the United States to study on a Fulbright Scholarship. He graduated with Master's degree (MA) in Public Administration at the State University of New York at Albany, New York, and then earned a Doctorate of Philosophy from Florida State University in 1987.[1] He had reached a level of education that many West Papuans of his time, even today, could not.

Political views[edit]

Dr. Thom was involved in politics as at an early age. As a young man, he watched West Papuans fight against the Indonesian occupation of their land since 1969. In 1988, as one of the West Papuan respected leaders, he began to teach a new kind of ideology: he taught that West Papuans are Melanesian people who are entitled to self-determination.[3] Dr. Thom channeled the frustration of the people of West Papua over the legality of Indonesian occupation of their lands. In his view, the manner in which West Papua was handed over to Indonesia was highly unfair, grossly unjust, and illegal based on International Human Rights laws and conventions. Dr. Thom, a trained lawyer did refuse to hide his disdain and dissatisfaction toward Indonesian occupation of West Papua and determined to fight against Indonesia through logical and legal arguments. He used his knowledge of international statues to challenge the legality of Indonesian occupation of West Papua, but during the Suharto regime, it was a war he couldn't win without losing his own life.

James Vorendberg of Asia Watch explained the kind of country Indonesia was – and continues to this day – during Dr. Thom's time:

Indonesia, ostensibly a Democracy, is in fact an authoritarian state where real decision-making power rests with President Suharto and the Indonesian military. Presidential decrees and administrative regulations are the major source of law, and the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat (DPR), the national parliament dominated - though appointment and electoral procedures - by the ruling party, GOLKAR (Golongan Karyan, literally "functional groups"), serves more as a forum for discussion of national issues than as a legislature.[4]

The Indonesian government under President Suharto was essentially a "dictatorship" in which presidential directives were executed as laws making it extremely hard for critics to engage the state in public debate. The basic rights of speech and public discourses were effectively banned. Hundreds of Indonesians, including West Papuans, were arrested for speaking out against the state.[5] Dr. Thom's dreams of an independent West Melanesia was seen as an extremely dangerous movement, and in 1988, the movement had its first test of the Suharto military justice.

Historical background[edit]

The people of West Papua occupied this land and remained virtually untouched for tens of thousands of years. They were a "gathering and hunting people" whose cultures were influenced by their thick natural rich dense forest and vast marine resources. However, the arrive of Europeans between 17th and 19th centuries changed all that.[6] The Netherlands (Dutch) claimed this territory by mere "proclamation" on August 24, 1828, and became a formal colony of the Netherlands in 1898.[7]

After World War II, Indonesia declared independence and by 1949, the Dutch colonial administration recognized its independence but continued to prepare West Papuans for their own independence. It was a reasonable argument to make since West Papuans and Indonesians are two distinctive cultures and ethnically differently. In a surprising move, the Indonesian government declared Irian Jaya (former name of West Papua) and other Islands - such as East Timor - parts of Indonesia. This is the beginning of the tension between the Dutch government and the newly recreated state of Indonesia.[6] On December 1, 1961, the West Papuan leaders - together with Dutch leaderships - raised the West Papuan flag for the first time; flying together as one. It was the beginning of the journey to self-determination. Indonesian president Sukarno had the backing of the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communist (CHICOM) launched a full-scale invasion of West Papua. The United States saw an opportunity to jeopardize Soviet efforts, offered Indonesian a deal - it was too good to pass up.

The negotiations between Indonesia, Britain and the UN culminated in the New York Agreement, proceeded by the Act of Free Choice in 1969. The Act of Free Choice laid the foundation to the ultimate annexation of West Papua by the Indonesian government. According to the New York Agreement, it would be the responsibility of Indonesia and the UN to ensure that the people of West Papua voted to determine whether they would remain with Indonesia or to breakaway as an independent state. Unfortunately, voters were rounded up and coerced to vote in favor of Indonesia. In spite of the apparent flaws of that election, the UN observers quickly endorsed the election and leveled it "fair". West Papua was to be taken away from West Papuans based on an election whereby only a fraction of hand-picked voters determined that the rest of West Papuans - like the election or not - would be forever part of Indonesia.[8]

Dr. Thom saw this as a day-light robbery of his people; culture, language, and rights to certain "inalienable" rights. His argument is that West Papuans are Melanesians who were wrongly taken from Melanesia under a sham election.

Anti-Subversion Law[edit]

In 1963, the government of Indonesia passed one if toughest laws - the "Anti-subversion" law. The law was passed to protect the state of Indonesia from conspiracy to overthrow or divide the state.[9] It explicitly defines the characteristics of individuals or movements liable to be tried under this statute:[10][11]

  • All actions Pancasila as the state ideology
  • All actions that are considered to create insecurity of the state power, government of the state apparatuses
  • Spreading the feeling of enmity, disintegration, and instability amongst the security between Indonesia and other countries.
  • Disrupt and hamper industry, production, distribution, trade, cooperatives, or transportation conducted by the government.
  • State sympathy towards countries that are considered to be enemies for Indonesia.
  • Mass destruction of the public buildings or personally owned buildings.
  • The act of espionage
  • The act of sabotage

This law was passed in 1963, two years after West Papua and Dutch authority hoisted the West Papuan flag - the Morning Star flag - on December 1, 1961,[7] which West Papuans believed to be their self-determination day. By passing this law, the Indonesian government made it virtually impossible to criticize the state or do things that may appear to be threatening to the unity and safety of the state. Any movement that challenges the state authority can be prosecuted under this 'Anti-subversion' law.

Arrest and incarceration[edit]

The flag of West Melanesia

Toward the end of 1988 - between November and December - Dr. Thom and his supporters met at his place where they mapped out a plan to declare the independence of West Melanesia - West Papua. On 14 December 1988, they marched to Manclula Sport Stadium in Jayapura. At the stadium, the Republic of West Melanesia was proclaimed with Dr. Thom as president of the newly declared independent state.[12] A new flag was raised featuring 14 stars with three coloured bars of black, red and white.[12] The flag had been sewn by his Japanese wife.[12] It would be the first time that West Papuan independence movement declared West Papua as a Melanesian territory.[1] Dr. Thom and his supporters apparently violated the 'Anti-subversion' law.

The Indonesian reaction was anticipated: Police officers arrived at the scene and apprehended Dr. Thom and other West Papuan political leaders; they were arrested and taken to military headquarters for interrogations. Taking these prisoners to military facilities made it extremely impossible for family members to visit them.[4]


After World War II, the world, having seen the ugliness of war, came together to pass one of the most important documents of our time - Universal Declaration on Human Rights. This agreement, which was signed by the major powers of the world, called for the protection and safety of all human beings irrespective of their location and circumstances. It also calls for the protection of the rights of individuals to a "fair trial".

Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional, or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.[13]

The declaration Human Rights agreement was signed prior to the independence of Indonesia in 1949, however, as a member state of the United Nations, Indonesia is - by default and by virtue of that membership - bound by that agreement to respect and protect the rights of Indonesians. Since the Suharto regime rose to power in the 1967, rights of all citizens were never protected instead they were discarded whenever they run counter to the will of the regime. In 1989, Dr. Wainggai found himself in the same predicament.[5]

In April 1989, West Papuans gathered to witness one of their heroes - Dr. Thom - taking on the full force of the Indonesian jurisprudence. According to Asia Watch, Dr. Thom was tried by the district court in Jayapura, in the months of April and June, in hearings that defied commonsense as it became transparent even to the unlearned that the Indonesian government (court) were pursuing long prison term against Dr. Thom even if it means violating common civil rights he was entitled to it. The court room was packed as indigenous people gathered to hear the proceedings. In June, however, the numbers of West Papuans who showed up fell dramatically because of political intimidation; police fired in the air and attendees were subjected to physical rough inspection.[1]

Dr. Thom vs. State[edit]

The Act of Free Choice held West Papua in 1969 was a highly controversial election. To West Papuan nationalists, the failure to consult them and the lack of equal representations at the polls was a slap in the face of Democracy. Lack of transparency on the part of the UN made that plebiscite a mere scam coated in the name of Democracy. The apparent disregard of the rights of West Papuans in the execution of this plebiscite led to the formation of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka. Sympathizers and loosely associated groups often clashed with Indonesian police in violent struggles for control.

Intellectual leaders such as Dr. Thom, however, preferred to challenge the legality of the acquisition of West Papua by pointing out the inconsistencies and discrepancies within the government policies and national statues (constitution). They preferred intellectual rational debate based on the reading of the laws. Asian Watch cited an event that demonstrated this new approach. Prior to the public demonstration at the stadium, Dr. Thom dispatched supporters to notify the Indonesian authority of his planned public declaration of West Melanesian independence and the location of the event, which essentially eradicate state's claim of conspiracy to overthrow the government.[1] This new method of non-violent approach to Indonesian's claim over West Papua, made the state case against Dr. Thom extremely fluid and fundamentally weak. The state could not charge Dr. Thom with conspiracy to overthrow the government by force, nor did they have any evidence to just charge him for violence, public disturbance or obstruction of justice because his movement was completely devoid of violence and public disturbance.

Dr. Thom's movement was not only unique to the OPM's struggle, but one that renewed the call for dialogue and reasonable debate over facts and mere claims - a call to revisit the legality of the 1969 election. He apparently borrowed the Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King style approach to the struggles of West Papuans. Indonesia saw him as extremely dangerous. [note 1][2] [note 2][1]


On September 7, 1989, Dr. Wainggai was sentenced to 20 years in prison.[note 3] It is obvious from this Asia Watch report that the Indonesian government wanted to convict Dr. Wainggai at all costs, even if means bending and ignoring the his rights to a fair trial. The report summed up the trial this way: "The Trial was marked by the irregularity that characterized all Indonesian political trials, including restricted access by lawyers to their client, insufficient materials to prepare the defense, failure to call defense witnesses and limited time for cross examination."[1]

Dr. Thom was held in a prison in West Papua for eight years, while his wife was kept in a separate prison designed for women. The couple were held in Jayapura prison from 1988 to 1990 before the Suharto regime relocated them to Jakarta amidst continual violent protests by West Papuan separatists. The conditions were absolutely harsh, but they had family and West Papua loyalists and die-hard nationalists visited him often.[1]

Dr. Thom was sent to LP Cipinang prison, while his wife was transferred to Tangerang prison in Jakarta - the capital city of Indonesia.[1][4]

Suspicious death[edit]

While the conditions in the state penitentiary in Jakarta were comparatively better to that in Jayapura, West Papua, Dr. Thom's healthy gradually deteriorated. Keeping the Wainggai's in Jakarta made it extremely complicated for the Wainggai family to visit them on a regular basis. On March 12, 1996, six years after his transfer to Jakarta, Dr. Thom succumbed to the illness he suffered; he died in jail.[5][14] Since the Indonesian government did not provide adequate explanation as to the true cause of his Dr. Thom's death, relatives in West Papua believed he died by poison. They believe that Dr. Thom was deliberately positioned - a position that the Council on Foreign Relations echoed in its finding while investigating the issues of West Papua.[15]

Conspiracy theories[edit]

According to reports, Dr. Thom returned from United States in late 1987 and worked as a lecturer at the Cenderawasih University, West Papua. He was also elevated to a senior position in the "Provincial Planning" office in Jayapura. What triggered his radical move to declare West Papua an independent state remained a debatable issue. It is also debatable why he only planned with a few people prior to the demonstration at the Mandala National Stadium where he was arrested.[16] Some suggested that Dr. Thom may have been unhappy and decided to take his personal anger to the national arena. Jones Sidney of Asia Watch provided a possible explanation for Dr. Thom's decision. According to Sidney, Dr. Thom had a personal goal that was to lead West Papua - formerly Irian Jaya - as governor. In 1987, he garnered enough support to run as a candidate in the 1987 governor's election. Unfortunately, he only received a few votes.[1] Sidney pointed to a popular view that he may have taken his personal dissatisfaction too far. This view suggested that Dr. Thom's decision to declare West Melanesia as an independent state came to being after the election, however, it didn't explain why Indonesian locked Dr. Thom up when he returned from Okayama University, Japan, for six months years back. It seems that Dr. Thom had held this position prior to 1987.[2]

Another "theory" which emerged after Dr. Thom suddenly died in jail, after only serving only nine years of his 20 years prison term, is that the Indonesian authority poisoned Dr. Thom. This theory is also widely accepted by authors and foreign reporters as the cause of Dr. Thom's death. For instance, Denise C. Blair and David L. Philips wrote that Dr. Thom died in prison from "food poisoning" in 1996.[15] However, they failed to provide evidence to support that claim. Furthermore, the materials available contain little substantive evidence to support this claim. It may have emerged as West Papuans tried to make sense of what happened to their leader.[15] On the other hand, Indonesia's explanation also seemed sketchy. To this day, it remains somewhat vague to say with all certainty that Dr. Thom died of food poisoning; there must be hard-evidence to support this claim, so far, there's little.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mr. Herman Wainggai, Dr. Thom's own nephew who followed his uncle's footsteps into the horror of Indonesian prison and served two years, referred to his uncle as the 'father of nonviolent struggle for the Liberation of West Papua.
  2. ^ Dr. Thom's method caught the Indonesian government off guard, noted the Asia Watch.
  3. ^ Dr. Thom would have been 71 if he served his full sentence.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Sidney, Jones (January 1, 1990). Injustice, Persecution, Eviction. USA: Asia Watch. pp. 20–22.
  2. ^ a b c d Wainggai, Herman. "My Story". Herman Wainggai Network. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  3. ^ Arena Magazine. "Papua's Fallen Leaders". Arena Magazine. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Vorenberg, James (1990). Prison Conditions in Indonesia. USA: Asia Watch Committee (US). p. 47. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  5. ^ a b c Lawson, Sylvia (February 1, 2012). Demanding the Impossible: About Resistance. Australia: Melbourne University Press. pp. 133, 135. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  6. ^ a b Heijden, Peter (1 March 2005). "History of Netherlands New Guinea". van der Heijden. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  7. ^ a b FWPC. "History of West Papua". Free West Papua Campaign. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  8. ^ Chomsky, Noam. "History of West Papua". Free West Papua. FWP. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  9. ^ ILO. "Indonesian ( 611)". International Labour Organisation (ILO). Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  10. ^ Sebastian, Leonard C (2006). Realpolitik Ideology. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asia Studies. pp. 433–436.
  11. ^ Susanti, Bivitri. "National Security, Terrorism, and Human Rights in Indonesia" (PDF). Digitalcollection ANU. Australia National University. Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  12. ^ a b c King, Peter (2004). West Papua & Indonesia since Suharto: independence, autonomy or chaos?. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press. ISBN 9780868406763.
  13. ^ United Nations. "THe Universal Declaration of Human Rights". United Nations. UN. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  14. ^ King, Peter (2004). West Papua & Indonesia Since Suharto - Independence, Autonomy, or Chaos (First ed.). Australia: UNSW Press. p. 46. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  15. ^ a b c Blair, Dennis; Philips, David (2003). Peace and Progress in Papua. US: Council on Foreign Relation. p. 108.
  16. ^ "Rumble in the Jungle: Fighting for Freedom in West Papua". DOD Magine. Retrieved 3 January 2016.

External links[edit]