Churches in Papua call for international response to 'racist' violence

Tensions continue between Indonesian forces and Papuan people

Churches in the violence-ravaged Indonesian province of Papua have demanded their own government withdraw troops and also called upon the international community to help a peaceful solution to be achieved. (Indonesia’s Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea. The independent nation of Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half.)

The Ecumenical Forum of Churches in Papua has circulated “A Call for Action” statement and pastoral appeal letters. These public pleas were sparked by social unrest and deaths which have occurred in the easternmost area of Australia’s nearest neighbour.

“The situation is extremely critical …” – Ecumenical Forum of Churches in Papua

The Ecumenical Forum claims that congregations reported, as of mid-September, almost 20 of their members had been shot, stabbed or burned by “the Military and Police”. According to the Forum, two people in Puncak Regency were burned in their hut while three people in Fak-Fak Regency “experienced stab wounds and bombs that were assembled by Militia.”

“We are writing as leaders of the Church in Papua to appeal to you for your urgent help in raising awareness about the current deteriorating security and human rights situation in our land,” begins the Forum’s “Call for Action”.

Since an incident in August of “racial abuse directed at Papuan students on the island of Java in Central Indonesia”, Papua has experienced increased military presence and ongoing clashes between protestors (largely, students) and government forces. Local police officials call the initial incident a “hoax” and want people in Papua not to be provoked by untrue news,” as The New York Times reported.

The tension between Indonesian authorities and Papuan people traces back to Indonesia’s shift, during the 1960s, from being a Dutch colony to an independent state. The indigenous population of Papua wanted to form its own nation but a controversial referendum in 1969 resulted in Indonesia remaining in control of the province. Papuan people believe racism exists towards them at social and governmental levels.

“This [August] incident mobilised thousands of Papuans to gather and join peaceful demonstrations in towns and cities across Papua,” claims the Ecumenical Forum’s “Call for Action”.

“However, there have also been some small breakaway groups that have burnt and destroyed property in protest.”

“The Government of Indonesia then responded with disproportionate aggression by militarising the island and allowing armed civil militia groups to be active on the streets.”

“The situation is extremely critical, and we believe that urgent international intervention is needed to help protect the Papuan people from the escalating violence.”

Similar to the continued tensions and protests in Hong Kong around sovereignty and people groups, the recent escalation of violence in Papua led this week to a “mass exodus” from the town of Wamena. Allegedly, more than 40 high school students may have been killed after Indonesian troops fired upon an anti-racism rally.

“In Jayapura it is suspected that the Papuan people who have been captured and imprisoned are experiencing torture while under police custody,” states the Forum. “They have not been allowed access to an independent and trusted lawyer. This is more proof of racist views and attitudes.

“Arbitrary actions like these are the extreme opposite to the law enforcement actions carried out by police towards the perpetrators of racist speech and violence against Papuan students in Surabaya, which became the root issue of the social turmoil in Papua.”

The Forum also says it has witnessed forms of racism such as Papuan students having their plane tickets cancelled, “intelligence officers entering into Papuan campuses, schools and hostels, collecting data and intimidating people”, and journalists being restricted in what they can report.

“Mobilise your communities to pray and stand in solidarity with the people of Papua …” – Ecumenical Forum of Churches in Papua

The Ecumenical Forum of Churches in Papua includes the Indonesian Christian Church in the Land of Papua (GKI Tanah Papua), Evangelical Church of Indonesia (GIDI), Fellowship of Baptist Churches of Papua and Synod of the Papuan Gospel Tabernacle Church (Kingmi Papua).

It has called upon the global Christian church, national governments and indigenous communities around the world to lobby the Indonesian Government to withdraw military troops from across Papua. This week, Indonesian president Joko Widodo stated he woud meet with Papuan separatists “if they really want to meet.”

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne told SBS News this week that “we are obviously very concerned about the reports of violence in Papua [and] West Papua.” urging “absolute restraint” to deescalate the situation.

The Forum also seeks the release of anyone captured or imprisoned for “protesting against racism”, and the government to enter “a dignified and peaceful dialogue” with the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. “The main objective of this should be to move towards a permanent positive peace in the land of Papua which has long been the hope of the people of Papua (since 1961), so that our children and grandchildren do not experience the oppression, pain and suffering that we have lived through.”

With the UN Commissioner for Human Rights called upon to “urgently visit Papua to investigate the human rights situation”, the Forum wants Christians everywhere to bring Papua to God in prayer.

“Mobilise your communities to pray and stand in solidarity with the people of Papua and put pressure on your political leaders to act on the call to action mentioned above.”

The Forum is empowered by two key Bible verses – “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before.” (Hebrews 4:13) and “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3)

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