Buckingham Palace has played host to some pretty unscrupulous characters over the years including Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao and even Robert Mugabe. This week the odorous list is extended to include Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is not only staying as a guest of Her Majesty but is being personally presented with a prestigious British Knighthood.
Such a warm welcome for the tyrant will be a bitter blow to those languishing under his rule, not least the people of occupied West Papua who harboured such high hopes of British support when David Cameron entered Downing Street in 2010. Having previously met with their inspirational independence leader Benny Wenda, many Papuans hoped that Cameron would take a stand against the Indonesian occupation of their country. Instead the Prime Minister remained silent as Yudhoyono’s troops continued to brutally torture their countrymen and open fire on demonstrations with live ammunition.
Whilst Yudhoyono resides and dines in luxury at Buckingham Palace, one of the most prominent figures in the West Papuan struggle Filep Karma,will remain locked in a squalid cell, serving a sentence for nothing more that raising the banned West Papuan flag. Filep has been frequently denied medical treatment and has been recognised around the world as a prisoner of conscience, yet Yudhoyono sees fit to keep him and others incarcerated for daring to peacefully challenge Indonesia’s colonialist whims.
Back in Indonesia itself, hundreds of thousands more suffer under repulsive state discrimination. Ahmadi Muslims and Christians frequently face brutal mob attacks, spurred on by government hate-speech and met with ludicrously weak sentences for the perpetrators. Recently, in the first case of its kind, a 30 year old citizen named Alex Aan was imprisoned for professing his atheism on facebook. Indonesia-watchers point to such developments as evidence of increasing government hostility against freedom of belief and an on-going erosion of human rights.
This trend appeared lost on David Cameron in April this year, when during a trade visit to Indonesia he somewhat baffling claimed that Yudhoyono’s clique ”neither compromises people's security nor their ability to practise their religion". Unfortunately such sycophancy is likely to be repeated this week when the two leaders meet again, in between royal engagements.
It is time for the UK and the rest of the international community to get tough on Yudhoyono – tea at the palace and a knighthood is not the way to do it.