West Papuan Christians Suffer Indonesian Political, Military Abuse
A Special Report by ICC
8/3/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – As West Papua fights for independence from the Indonesian-occupied half of the Island; its indigenous Christian population is suffering increasing political and military abuse as well as human rights violations.
On July 9, Audryne Karma launched a petition to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for the release of her father Filep Karma a Christian Papuan political prisoner since 2004. In September 2011, a UN delegation declared he was a political prisoner, confirming he had not been given a fair trial. However, the Indonesian government has denied the existence of political prisoners and resisted international calls for his release.
This was not Filep Karma’s first arrest, as he was previously arrested in 1998 during a peaceful protest which was disrupted with attacks by Indonesian troops. More than 100 protesters were killed, and several are still missing. Karma was shot in both legs when he was praying at the scene. His last words to his daughter before his arrest were: “Tomorrow Father will go to raise a flag and will make a brief speech in Abepura Trikora square. Both of you take care. If I am arrested by the police do not worry, do not visit Father at the police station. Just stay home and go to school as usual. The Lord Jesus protects us all.”
On Feb 21, after the Indonesian government refused to heed community appeals to stop building military outposts on a sacred burial site, Papua guerrilla fighters took up arms and resisted. Eight Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) soldiers and four non-Papuan civilians were killed in the clash, according to Christians in Crisis. Since then, at least 18 houses, five evangelical churches, two schools and a library have been razed by the combined police and military forces as part of a clean-up campaign by the Indonesian military.
Thousands of Papuan civilians have fled into the bush. Despite photographic evidence, the Indonesian government is dismissing the reports of killings and disappearances as “rumors” and propaganda. As of May 27, at least 41 Papuan civilians were reportedly dead with some 30 missing.
On May 1, 2012, during demonstrations in Papua, one protester was killed and 13 were arrested. In October 2011, the government brutally suppressed the Papuan People’s Congress, beating dozens and killing three people. While protesters were jailed and charged with treason, the police chief in charge of security that day was promoted, according to the New York Times.
Almost 100 people remain in prison for peaceful protests. Dozens are ill, but the government has denied them proper treatment, claiming it lacks the money. Karma himself suffered severe health problems in prison due to poor sanitation and malnutrition in the prisons.
The political situation over 50 years of the Indonesian colonization of West Papua is tantamount to genocide, according to Benny Wenda, a West Papuan independence leader. After escaping arrest and torture, Wenda found asylum in the U.K. and launched the Free West Papua campaign, hoping for the campaign to go global as “the only way to educate the world.”
On 12 June, in an interview with The Telegraph, he said, “The entire West Papua is a prison, we are enslaved by Indonesian military. At least 500,000 men and women have already been killed. This is genocide. They look at us as a colony, so they can do whatever they like. That is why I’m telling the world in 20, 30 years time my people will have disappeared.”
Religious intolerance and political ambition are fused together in a horrifying concoction of modern-day colonization that has led to unnumbered human rights violations – massacres, rapes, torture, mutilations, discrimination, destruction of property and various forms of intimidation and abuse – making West Papua one of the world’s best kept secrets of religious and political intolerance.
Ryan Morgan, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, says, “ICC is very alarmed by developments in West Papua and calls on the Indonesian government to put an immediate halt to any extra-judicial killings taking place and to bring those responsible for past attacks on innocent Papuan civilians to justice.”
With continued negligence, a largely political conflict could take on overtly religious connotations, even as Christians have already been numbered among the victims of human rights violations at the hands of the Indonesian military. As Ryan Morgan adds, “There is a very real danger that this conflict, which pits Islamic officials against indigenous Christian peoples, may take on a religious discriminatory element if it hasn’t already. Regardless the Indonesian government must do more to ensure that further bloodshed does not ensue.”
Indonesia’s economic growth cannot be paired with gross violations of human rights and widespread abuse of power in a region that goes beyond its political jurisdiction. Its military presence into West Papua runs the risk of opening the door for extremist hardliners to enter in and target the weakened Christian population – if that hasn’t happened already. Indonesia needs to heed the ongoing calls of the international community and give the people of West Papua the freedom they have fought and suffered for all these years.