Papua: Churches Burnt, 2 Pastors Killed in Military Crackdown

Sunday, July 27, 2003

By Elizabeth Kendal
World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Papua (Irian Jaya) is a former Dutch colony of Melanesian peoples on the western half of the island of New Guinea. Today, over 90% of all indigenous Papuans are officially reckoned as Christians. Papua was annexed by Indonesia in 1963. In December 2001 President Megawati Sukarnoputri signed a Special Autonomy law into effect. Church leaders were involved in writing the law, but Papuans in the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) or Free Papua Movement, continue their low-level resistance to Indonesian rule, whilst the Papua Presidium Council seeks independence by peaceful means. Muslim transmigration from Java, the growing presence of the Laskar Jihad, and the February 2003 presidential decree to divide Papua into three provinces, all threaten the integrity of Papua and the future of the predominantly Christian Papuan people.

A complicating factor is the decree signed in 2000 which is supposed to take the Indonesian military (TNI) out of the nation's politics and domestic security by 2004. The TNI, though, is used to being extremely powerful and their unhappiness with this prospect is behind much of the strife in Eastern Indonesia. They claim they should control domestic security because of the 'serious problem of separatism'. Many people fear that the Indonesian military and the Laskar Jihad are looking for opportunities to unleash terror on the Papuans. The TNI is seeking self-glorification and justification for its presence in domestic security, and the Laskar Jihad is keen to cement Papua as Muslim territory.

On 4 April 2003, 15 unidentified men raided a military post in Wamena in the Central Highlands of Papua, causing three deaths. Of the 29 rifles stolen, 19 were soon recovered. The TNI were questioned over the raid as it was clear there was military collusion, and nine soldiers have been arrested. However, the TNI sent hundreds of combat soldiers (including 144 Kopassus - Special Forces) to Wamena, ostensibly to hunt down the culprits. In this resulting crackdown, the military destroyed many houses and at least 11 churches, mostly with flamethrowers. The human rights group Elsham said there were over 50 instances of the TNI, whenever they found a Bible, burning it in contempt.

At least 15 Papuans have been killed with some horrifically tortured to death. Amongst the dead are Baptist pastors Kutis Tabuli (41) and his brother Engellek Tabuli (57), who was the district church leader. The TNI have intimidated and tortured many villagers around Wamena. Their possessions and livestock have been stolen and their schools, clinics and churches burnt down. Hundreds have fled into the jungle. The bodies of villagers who starved to death while hiding there have also been found.

• the gross, violent abuses of human rights by the Indonesian military to be stopped and that the perpetrators will be brought to justice, sending a clear message across Papua and all Indonesia.

'God's voice thunders in marvellous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.' Job 37:5

• the cry of the Papuan people to reach the ears of the international community, so that international pressure, to which Indonesia responds, will bring them peace, justice and security.

• strong, wise Christian leadership in this time of grief, fear and anxiety about Papua's future.

• frightened, confused Christians, that the Tempter (1 Thess 3:5) will not triumph over them, but rather that their faith will hold fast and even grow.