Home

West Papua: Indonesian army general tightens the screws on the Kingmi Papua Church

A leaked letter discloses the Indonesian government’s attempts to repress movements for cultural pride and autonomy in the country's restive Pacific periphery.
Alex Rayfield
11 July 2011

From the outside looking in, it might appear that the latest church conflict in West Papua is just another example of factional Protestant politics. A little sordid perhaps, but irrelevant to all but the parties involved. Dig a little deeper, however, and one finds something more disturbing. A leaked letter from the head of the Indonesian Army in Papua obtained by this author reveals that far from being an internal church matter, the conflict between Kingmi Indonesia (GKII), a Protestant church that has parishes across Indonesia, and the breakaway Kingmi Papua Church (GKIP), goes to the heart of the Indonesian government’s attempt to repress movements for cultural pride and autonomy in the country’s restive Pacific periphery. 

In a nutshell the conflict is over whether Kingmi Papua has the right to separate from Kingmi Indonesia and set up an autonomous synod, reverting to an arrangement that existed prior to 1987. The question is this: why has Major-General Erfi Triassunu waded into a conflict that he himself acknowledges is an internal church matter? In the letter (File Number: R/773/IV/2011) addressed to the Governor of Papua, Mr. Barnebus Suebu, dated 30 April 2011 and marked “secret”, Triassunu “respectfully requests” the Governor to arrange a meeting between GKII and GKIP. The General also offers himself as a mediator. The letter continues: “if the conflict cannot be resolved through discussion then assertive action must be taken”. 

Let me translate “assertive action” for you. In East Timor when the Indonesian Army took “assertive action” against the Church there, they murdered church workers, massacred parishioners, raped women and burnt churches to the ground. In West Papua the Indonesian Army has a history of killing pastors from the Kingmi Papua Church, as well as other churches. This dates back to May 1 1963 when the Indonesian government took administrative control of the territory and has continued up to the present. Last October a video filmed on soldiers’ mobiles phones and circulated widely on the internet, showed several soldiers from Kostrad, the Indonesian Army’s Strategic Command – Triassunu’s own division – torturing a Papuan church worker by burning his genitals with a stick. 

In the letter Triassunu, who previously served in Aceh, makes a number of accusations. He accuses Kingmi Papua of trying to access as much money as they can from the government’s Special Autonomy programme in order to create new churches. However, the real purpose of building a network of churches, Triassunu insists is “to strengthen Papuan civil society aspirations for freedom”. He then argues that the Kingmi Papua Church’s desire to be independent of the Indonesian Church is “just an excuse” for “the church to become a political vehicle” that supports “Papua Merdeka” (freedom). 

Triassunu then goes on to make a number of recommendations. He specifically says that Kingmi Papua pastors should stick to Biblical “dogma” and not stray into politics. The General is on solid ground here, following in the footsteps of numerous dictators from Marcos to Pinochet, all notorious for their attempts to stifle meddlesome priests. Triassunu specifically names Reverends Benny Giay (the current moderator of the Kingmi Papua Church), Seblum Karubaba (the former moderator) and Noakh Nawipa (the Rector of the Pos 7 Theological College) as malcontents, mentioning several seminars organised by the trio where “Papua Merdeka” was discussed. 

All this has echoes of Suharto who systematically depoliticised (read violently repressed and disbanded) all independent organisations, including religious ones, for fear they could become bases for organised opposition against the regime. Indonesian democrats may have overthrown Suharto but West Papua is not part of a new democratic Indonesia. What is deeply concerning is that in the Papuan context the label “separatist” is regularly applied to Papuan leaders as a pretext for justifying extra-judicial action by the security forces. 

This is where the plot thickens. According to the letter the General decided to become involved in the Kingmi conflict after Rev. Karel Maniani, a GKII pastor personally asked the Army to protect GKII parishioners. But Rev. Maniani himself was previously a member of “Group Nine” of the Papuan Freedom Movement (or OPM). In the 1980s Maniani was jailed for four years in the notorious Kalisosok Prison. What happened to Maniani on the journey from freedom fighter to Army petitioner? To make things stranger the conservative evangelical U.S based Christian Missionary Association backs Maniani and the GKII against GKIP. (For the CMA, the Indonesian government’s control of Papua has been ordained by God (Romans 13.1), whereas Giay, Karubaba and Nawipa are some of the intellectual architects of a distinctly Papuan form of liberation theology, not that they call it that.) At stake is not only valuable church property and access to Special Autonomy funds, it is also over influence of a broad Papua base. Kingmi Papua has half million members. Virtually all of them are indigenous Papuans from the fractious Highlands, around a third of the entire Papuan population. 

When I asked Benny Giay about all this his reply was revealing. For years he said he was part of a church that was more concerned with “saving souls” than the day-to-day oppression of the Papuans. “The Kingmi church has been complicit with the suffering of the Papuans. We need to confess our sins and follow the narrow path of Jesus. This Gospel is very clear; we must stand with the oppressed and work to alleviate their suffering. I hope we can cast off our fear and stay firm to this path.” 

Giay has a vision for an independent Papuan church; a uniquely Papuan church that makes space for Papuans to begin to articulate their own theology, one that sees God present in Papuan history and culture. Giay and his colleagues are slowly building up a church that commits itself to solidarity with the poor and oppressed; one that is led by the Papuans themselves. That may not sound much to a reader unfamiliar with Papuan politics, but in West Papua it is a big deal. 

Just ask the General.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email

Comments

We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData