Date: October 4, 2023
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 713
INDONESIAN PAPUA: MELANESIAN CHRISTIANS HUNTED IN DARKNESS
By Elizabeth Kendal
CONTEXT: ‘THEY’RE HUNTING US’
On 7 April Indonesian special forces officers who were ‘sweeping’ Kuyawage village, Lanny Jaya Regency, Highland Papua (Pegunungan) Province – torching houses and a church and terrorising locals – detained four teenage boys and two young men. Accusing the boys of being members of the rebel West Papua Liberation Army or TPNPB, the officers transported them to regional military headquarters 100km away where they were beaten and tortured. High school student and promising musician Wity Unue (17) was tortured to death. Temporarily disappeared, the other five Papuans were only released after human rights advocates tipped off local media. Papuan human rights activist Raga Kogeya was present when the boys were released. ‘The kids had all been tortured … they’d been tied up and then burned. [The military] had heated up machetes and knives and pressed it against their skin … They didn’t even look like humans. They were burnt from head to toe. They were in a really bad way.’ The military brought Wity Unue’s body back to Kuyawage in a box. When they couldn’t find his family, because they had fled the military violence, they dumped the cardboard coffin in a clearing at the end of the street and set it on fire with his body inside.
Yones Douw, the head of the peace and justice department for the Protestant Tabernacle (Kingmi) Church of Papua, explains that the Indonesian military routinely detains, tortures and kills Papuan boys and young men, and then says, ‘Oh, we thought they were guerrillas’. ‘But,’ objects Douw, ‘there’s no way that the guerrillas are walking around looking like schoolkids – that doesn’t happen. Guerillas are not walking around in the streets. This is happening to ordinary people.’ What’s more, he adds, more often than not, they are little more than ‘kids’. Only days before the boys were taken away, soldiers opened fire on a group of women and children returning home with string bags filled with food after shopping in a neighbouring village. A teenage girl named Parena Karunggu (16) was left with a serious gaping bullet wound to her lower back; the bullet lodged in her abdomen. Papuans (Melanesian Christians) are convinced that the military (Javanese Muslims) know they are attacking civilians. Nopinanus Kogoya, an uncle of one of the tortured boys, laments: ‘They’re hunting us in this inhumane way.’
HIGHLAND PAPUA: CHURCH MEMBERS KILLED AND ASSAULTED
approx. conflict area marked in red
(click on map to enlarge)
map source: mapworld
On 15 September five Papuan youths were found dead at the mouth of the Brasa River in Dekai, the capital of Yahukimo Regency, Highland Papua Province. The Indonesian military claims the youths died in a gunfight with Indonesian security forces. However, Sebby Sambom, a spokesperson for the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) said, ‘They’re not our members. They were purely civilians who wanted to return to their villages and were shot and bombed by the Indonesian military.’ The youths – boys aged between 15 and 18 years old – were all members of the Protestant Tabernacle (Kingmi) Church of Papua. According to Pastor Atias Matuan, Chair of the Yahukimo Church Fellowship (PGGY), the five youths regularly delivered food to the village after buying it in Dekai. Pastor Matuan accompanied the victims’ families to the Yahukimo Regional General Hospital to collect the bodies which, he said, had ‘gunshot wounds to the stomach, chest and legs’. The boys were buried in Dekai on 19 September.
On 17 September Indonesia’s Nduga District Police and the Damai Cartenz Task Force [anti-KKB (armed criminal groups)] raided a residential house in Kenyam village, Nduga Regency, Highland Papua Province and, despite not having a warrant, arbitrarily arrested three Papuan men. Then men were tortured to reveal names of those who had attended a recent burial of TPNPB members. After one of the torture victims named Reverend Urbanus Kogeya, the police released the torture victims – because there was no evidence against them – and headed to the Kingmi Papua Office in Kenyam. Arriving at the Kingme church office at 11:30pm, the police entered by breaking down the door. Inside the property, asleep on the second floor, were several local Kingmi Papua Church leaders and members who had stayed late at the property in preparation for a church event. They would be the next Melanesian Christians to experience the racial-religious hatred of Javanese Muslim police.
Tortured, Gira Gwijangge (19) - 17 Sept 2023.
Also has wounds to right shoulder and left knee.
(Image: YKKMP/Kingmi Papua/
Human Rights Monitor)
Human Rights Monitor (28 September) has published a list of victims, including names, age, sex, and injuries sustained in the violent raid (photos included). The victims include an 85-year-old man, four women and four pastors. When Reverend Nataniel Tabuni asked the officers why they had come and broken in at night, one of the officers punched him three times in the face. According to Tabuni, one officer said, ‘You are the Church of Satan, the Church of Terrorists! You are supporting Egianus Kogeya [TPNPB Commander in Nduga] under the pretext of praying.’ The head of Nduga Parliament (DPRD), Ikabus Gwijangge heard the commotion and rushed to the scene. When Gwijangge protested the police violence, a Damai Cartenz officer threatened him saying, ‘Stupid parliamentarian. I’ll come after you!...’ as another officer forced the MP outside. Multiple human rights organisations have condemned the incident.
The Papuan provinces are the most militarised region in all Indonesia. Catholic media reports (22 September), ‘According to data from the advocacy group Imparsial, the number of soldiers posted in Papua is 16,900, most of them belonging to trained combat units.’ According to Kontras (The Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence), there have been 31 incidents of violence including shootings, torture, arbitrary arrests and other acts of violence during January to August this year. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Security Minister General (ret.) Wiranto is seeking an extra 60 billion rupiah (roughly US$4 million) for a campaign against what Jakarta calls ‘Papua misinformation’. A major propaganda campaign is being prepared; a smokescreen to obscure reality. That should worry everyone who cares about the plight of the Papuan Church: the legacy of Dutch, North American and Australian pioneer and martyr missionaries of the early-mid 20thC [see RLPB 519, How Will the Story End? 10 Sep 2019].
PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR MERCIFUL GOD WILL:
- open the door into Indonesian’s Papuan provinces so that independent monitors and journalists, and international aid organisations, may have access to this long-closed region where lack of transparency, lack of ‘light’ and lack of accountability has only worked to fuel human rights abuses and enable impunity. We pray this today with a sense of urgency as geo-strategic Indonesia moves to have criticism rejected as ‘misinformation’. Lord have mercy! ‘Let there be light’.
- intervene in Indonesia to demilitarise the Papuan provinces and advance Papuan autonomy so that the region’s indigenous predominantly Christian Melanesians might be free to live, work and worship in peace. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
- comfort and sustain all those who are grieving the loss of loved ones murdered by Indonesian forces, as well as all those who have been arbitrarily detained, beaten, tortured and terrorised by Indonesian forces in recent times; may fear not overwhelm them; may anger and hatred have no place in their hearts; may the God of all grace supply their every need.
- help the Papuan Church remain strong in faith through these dark and testing times; may the Papuan Church commit to prayer and to seeking mercy and help from the Lord who planted her in the land and loves her with unfailing love (hesed). May the Body of Christ rise to pray with her and for her.
‘Remember ... those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body’ (Hebrews 13:3b ESV).