An Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn from Indonesia

An Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn from Indonesia

Dear Mr. Corbyn,

We are writing on behalf of Indonesian people in the UK. As your admirers, we were surprised to read your statement published in the Guardian online edition - Helen Davidson's article titled "Jeremy Corbyn on West Papua: UK Labour Leader calls for independent vote" on 6 May 2016. We are very disappointed that you could come up with such a short-sighted conclusion about Papua and West Papua, which is simply groundless and reflects your very limited knowledge about the two provinces.

One of us has lived in Papua and we have been educated about Papua since our early age. We know exactly what life is like in provinces of Papua and West Papua. Even those who had visited Papua and West Papua could see that socio-economic development in the two provinces is comparable and in some cases exceeds other cities/countries in the South Pacific.

Your statement has very much undermined and hurt the feeling of 250 million Indonesians among them are 3.9 million living in 42 districts and cities in the provinces of Papua and West Papua. Every 5 years, the registered voters in Papua and West Papua, including those overseas, voluntarily take part in elections that internationally regarded as free and fair. Like other Indonesians, we in Papua and West Papua freely and directly voted for our President, Parliamentarians, Governors, Mayors and Regents. Even all of our Governors, Mayors and Regents are ethnic Papuan. We are dismayed that you believe people in Papua and West Papua do not enjoy democracy. We are puzzled that you said that we are not free to choose, free to govern and free to determine our own future. Instead, you should be cautious about the claims made by Benny Wenda and other individuals that they are representing people of Papua. Who are really they representing?

It is difficult for us to understand your support over Benny Wenda and his friends' accusation that the Indonesian Government persecuting, oppressing, and even conducting genocide in Papua and West Papua. The facts are the two provinces have been enjoying 5-8% of annual economic growth which lifted millions of people out of poverty, accelerated infrastructure constructions, increasing population growth, improving education and healthcare and other remarkable achievements. One of us was there.

It is truly against your personal and the general British values to support racists like Benny Wenda and his friends who are always prejudiced against Indonesians from non-ethnic Papuan background living and working in Papua and West Papua. They ridiculously believe that non-ethnic Papuan people migrating to the two provinces are part of the Indonesian Government's program to wipe out native Papuans.

It, of course, cannot be ignored that Papua is still facing many development issues including corruption, the lack of human resources of local governments and it is further exacerbated by the complicated topology of Papua. For example within the last few years, at least eight Regents were listed as corruption suspects. In addition, the Governor of Papua for the period of 2006-2011, Barnabas Suebu, has been imprisoned for a corruption case that cost the state 10 billion IDR. However, instead of spreading rumours and triggering conflicts and polemics in Papua, it is wiser to unite and start working together with local governments and communities to develop Papua.

As Indonesians, we feel the need to enlighten you about some of misleading information that Benny Wenda and his friends have been campaigning throughout these years:

  • Benny Wenda and his supporters argue that access for foreign journalists to Papua and Papua Province are restricted. The truth is among 22 visa requests only 5 were declined due to administrative matters. In 2015, all journalists' requests to visit Papua have been granted.
  • Benny Wenda and his supporters claim that natural resources and money are siphoned away from Papua. The fact is the special autonomy law gives the local governments in the two provinces a much bigger share of local revenues, a privilege that other provinces of Indonesia do not enjoy. Both provinces receive 80 percent of forestry, fishery and mining sectors revenues, and 70 percent of oil and gas sector revenues. On top of receiving financial transfers from the central government, Papua also receives additional special autonomy funds of up to two percent of the total national General Purpose Funds (GPF). The GPF for Papua and West Papua is eight percent of the total national GPF and is almost as big as the GPF for West Java, a region with 12 times the population of Papua and West Papua. On a province-to-province comparison, the GPF for Papua and West Papua is bigger than the combined GPF of East Java and West Java, provinces with 20 times the population of Papua and West Papua.
  • It is true that there were allegations of human rights violations by Indonesian security forces that killed four individuals who attacked a security office in Panlai in 2014. But there was an error in the handling of the conflict when there was a mass riot. It has not been reported that the incident took place as the result of a fight between two young individuals, rather than Papua's development issues. If we look at the data on violence perpetrated by the separatist movement from 2009 to 2014, there were 166 cases of violence involving the OPM. In 2012, three policemen were killed in Lanny Jaya. In 2013, an ambulance carrying several patients was fired on in Puncak Jaya, causing the death of one volunteer from the Indonesian Red Cross. Furthermore, two policemen were assassinated in Lanny Jaya in 2014 while carrying out a community empowerment programme. Two more police officers were killed in Puncak Jaya while helping to lift chairs and tables in a church. Last year, three policemen were killed in Sinak, while the most recent incident was the killing of four construction workers. These conditions should open the eyes of various parties, especially the Papuan Independence Movement as well as other groups, in order to place the issue of human rights violations in Papua in a more proportionate position. Over the years, human rights violations in Papua have been voiced as a justification to support their intention for Papuan independence. Nonetheless, those who call for independence prefer to remain silent when violence is committed against police officers or other security forces.
  • Benny Wenda and his friends in ULMWP strongly object Indonesia's membership in the MSG. One should know that there are about 11 million Indonesians of Melanesian descent concentrated in five provinces in the eastern part of Indonesia (East Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, North Maluku, Papua, and West Papua) making Indonesia the home to the largest population of Melanesian ethnicity in the world. As such, not only is Indonesia's membership in MSG very relevant, but also opens up greater mutually beneficial cooperation between the South Pacific nations and Indonesia - one of the world's largest economies.
  • Most recently Benny Wenda and his friends tweeted about hundreds of people being arrested due to supporting ULMWP on 2 May 2016. However, they did not tweet the facts that the same day afternoon those arrested were released nor tweeted other events celebrating the returning of Papua and West Papua to Indonesia on 1 May 2016.

We dearly remember your saying the importance of having a connected heart and head. However, your conclusion about Papua and West Papua is based merely on empathy for certain groups without factual supports. It is very unwise of you to listen only to the few but ignore the many.

The world is facing increasing challenges in managing democracy, human rights, multiculturalism and pluralism. Just like the United Kingdom, we in Indonesia are committed to pushing forward human rights, pluralism and multiculturalism. Both countries should work hand in hand in addressing those challenges on the basis of equality, mutual respect and understanding.

We thank you.


Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat and Media Wahyudi Askar

This letter is co-written with Media Wahyudi Askar, a Ph.D scholar at the University of Manchester and the President of Indonesian Student Association in the UK. He lived in Papua for three years and is also a contributing writer of a book on Papua.

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