Christians in Indonesia’s Papua Province Increasingly Under Threat
By Gina Goh
03/27/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – In predominantly Muslim Indonesia, its largest and easternmost province, Papua, a place where over 80% of the population identifies as Christian, stands in stark contrast to the rest of the country which holds the world’s largest population of Muslims.
Blessed by missionaries from the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States with the Gospel, the resource-rich region, however, has long suffered from economic inequality, lack of development, and human rights abuses from Jakarta. It continues to be the country’s least developed and most impoverished area.
Now, Christianity in this region is also increasingly threatened as the influence of Islam grows. The number of Muslims and mosques particularly in cities has increased, especially in Jayapura district. Many old mosques are demolished and rebuilt with taller minarets to overshadow nearby churches.
On February 27, with samurai swords in their hands, a gang of six led by a controversial Muslim cleric ransacked a Christian man’s home for playing Christian music at dawn as a nearby Islamic boarding school was observing morning prayer.
Ja’far Umar Thalib, the cleric who runs Ihya As-Sunnah Islamic boarding school in Muara Tami district, allegedly barged into the home of Henock Niki around 5:30 a.m. with several sword-wielding followers dressed in white.
“The perpetrators then severed the cables of the victim’s speakers. They told him that the loud music was disturbing worshipers in the mosque,” national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told reporters in Jakarta. Other news outlets also reported that the mob went on to damage the speakers and injure the man’s 14-year-old son.
According to Dedi, Henock told the attackers that the morning prayer was at 4:15 a.m., which should have been over by that time. They subsequently fled south in a minibus.
“The perpetrators then severed the cables of the victim's speakers. They told him that the loud music was disturbing worshipers in the mosque.”
The attack on Henock’s house drew protests from local residents who immediately took action to block the road to stop the perpetrators from fleeing. Residents reported the incident to the police and asked them to arrest the mob.
The police were able to apprehend the suspects and secure evidence from the scene, including five samurai swords, several long machetes, and a number of media materials from Laskar Jihad, Thalib’s radical Islamic organization.
Reskrimum Director of the Papua Regional Police, Commissioner Tonny Harsono, told reporters, “We are charging the seven suspects with Article 170 Paragraph 2 concerning destruction, while three of them will also be charged with Law Number 12 of 1951 concerning ownership of sharp weapons.”
Thalib is known for his radical line of thoughts and actions. He recruited a “jihadist army” to fight in a deadly conflict between Christians and Muslims in Ambon, in the Maluku Islands, that claimed the lives of approximately 5,000 people between 2000 and 2003.
On March 4, more than 2,000 Christians in Papua took to the streets to demand Thalib’s expulsion. They held a protest outside the Papua governor’s office in the provincial capital Jayapura. Protesters said they would take the matter into their own hands if the governor failed to expel Thalib.
Rev. Dorman Wandikbo, president of the Evangelical Church in Indonesia who was part of the rally, said, “His presence has damaged interreligious harmony in Papua, and if no action is taken, he will turn this place into a land of conflict.”
He also added that Thalib’s influence was spreading in Papua. “We don’t want him to create another conflict like the one that devastated Ambon,” he stated.
Members of the minority Muslim community in Papua are also in support of his expulsion. Taha Alhamid, a Muslim leader who was part of the rally, said his community also believed that Talib should be returned to his hometown.
“We want the police to immediately remove him from Papua,” he said.
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