Understanding the so called “UK’s Secrecy Relating to Benny Wenda”

Rakhmat and Askar’s “UK’s Secrecy Relating to Benny Wenda,” February 22, suggests that to maintain the good relations between Indonesia and UK, the British government needs to do something about the political activities of Benny Wenda, which the writers seen as a stumbling block. The reasons are “crisis of confidence of Indonesian government due to the protection of Benny Wenda as political asylum by the British government, the sensitivity of Papua issue, and the crisis of public confidence.”

Among the writers claims are that support for Benny Wenda in the form of safe home by the British government may lead to a crisis of confidence from the Indonesian government, and this may significantly disrupt London’s plan to make Indonesia a main investment target in Asia. In other word, it could become a boomerang for the British themselves. Their repetitive ideas of “crisis of confidence” both from Indonesian public and government sounds like a causative relation. They may assume Benny Wenda as an important independent variable creating crisis of confidence in Indonesia’s side and at the other end will hit back to UK’s interest in Indonesia. This argument is not only over exaggerate Benny Wenda’s potential threat to the stability of Indonesia-UK relations, but also miss the fundamental reasons in understanding the British political system.

There seems to be a jump in reasoning in explaining why the UK should interfere with Wenda’s activities in campaigning independence for Papua. This is not to say that there is no issue with Benny Wenda’s political campaign in UK within the context of Indonesia-UK relations. The point is to be clear about understanding both Indonesia and UK positions on the issue of freedom of political expression.

Under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, asylum seekers must show that they have a well-founded fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, and are unable or unwilling to seek protection from the authorities in their own country. Furthermore, the UK Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 provides legal guidance of how the British government should treat asylum seekers in UK. The fact that Benny Wenda successfully got the asylum status 13 years ago shows an opposite position between the government of Indonesia and UK regarding Benny Wenda. The law in UK protects those who have well-founded fear of persecution, while the law in Indonesia is still considered not strong enough in protecting its own people from persecution.

Beside the legal perspective about asylum, Rakhmat and Askar may forget the political system and culture in UK. Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her book The Friends of Voltaire wrote the phrase: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. This is one of the fundamental characters of political culture in the UK. It is common to have different opinion or political stance, but one should not dictate other what to say. A very good example can be seen in the case of Scotland independence movement and the referendum in 2014. That is why the general sentiment towards some “controversial” political activism such as the far right or left, the religiously motivated movement, and also asylum groups in UK is silent simply because those groups have their rights. The limit of this political expression is without violence.

On holding political dialogue between the two countries [Indonesia-UK] by including Benny Wenda looks like an invitation to the British government to get involve in Indonesia’s domestic problem. It is not only inevitably will be rejected by the government of Indonesia, but also by the British government because formally the British government supports Indonesia’s territorial integrity. The last statement from the British government regarding Papua is from Ambassador Moazzam Malik in January 2016 that the UK fully supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Indonesia and regard Papua as an integral part of Indonesia. The people and government of Indonesia should have strong faith in the way British government addresses the sympathizers of Free Papua movement in UK.

Finally quoting Winston Churchill: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen,” is applied to both Indonesia and Free Papua Movement sympathizers everywhere.



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