Wednesday, July 9, 2014

RLPB 268. PAPUA, Indonesia: desperate for change

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 268 | Wed 09 Jul 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

Indonesians go to the polls today (Wednesday 9 July) to elect a new president. After 14 years of heartbreak, Papua's long-suffering predominantly Christian ethnic Melanesians are yearning for change. During Suharto's 32-year 'New Order' dictatorship, a brilliant and highly cultured Muslim cleric by the name of Abdurrahman Wahid (1940-2009) rose to prominence as a staunch defender of human rights, ethnic-religious minorities and Indonesia's secular tradition. In 1999 he became Indonesia's first democratically elected president. Wahid embarked on a program of ambitious, radical reforms. His commitment to military reform enraged not only the Indonesian military (TNI) but all the corrupt business and political elites who had long reaped financial gain from TNI business. During 2000 Wahid commenced work on a Special Autonomy Law for Papua. Created in consultation with Papuans, it mandated (amongst other things) that most of the revenue earned from Papuan resources would be returned to Papua to improve health, education and other services. Enraged, the TNI (which is heavily invested in Papua) accused Wahid of supporting separatism, evoking the memory of East Timor. Indonesia's Islamic fundamentalists were also anti-Wahid, for not only did he seek to protect the rights of Christians, he openly supported Israel.

Unfortunately, Wahid was also disorganised and unpredictable with a knack for alienating colleagues. By 2000 powerful forces were aligning against him, conspiring to have him impeached. Violence soared, especially in Maluku where the TNI was openly arming and supporting the Laskar Jihad and in Papua where the TNI was provoking 'incidents' so it could claim to be fighting 'separatism'. Terrorism escalated and the nation seemed to be wracked by insecurity. After Wahid was impeached on 23 July 2001, his successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, set about emasculating the Special Autonomy Law. Megawati's term was followed up by two terms of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), during which nothing was done to restore the confidence of the Papuans. Javanese-Muslim colonisation, militarisation and Islamisation proceeded apace, along with poverty, marginalisation, corruption and gross human rights abuses. Papuan hope faded until eventually, Special Autonomy was declared dead, replaced by a revived yearning for independence. [Indonesia will not allow independence as Papua is simply too resource rich.] During 2013, in a last bid effort to secure a legacy, SBY engaged with Papuan governors to hammer out a new Special Autonomy law: 'Otsus Plus'. SBY had hoped to have it enacted by August 2014 before his term expires in October 2014. However, the situation is far too complex for that, especially after decades of betrayal, neglect, persecution and serious, systematic human rights abuses inspired by greed and ethnic-religious hatred.

Papuans have long suffered at the hands of Indonesian security forces. Killings, tortures and arbitrary arrests are routine, as are military 'sweeps' in which hundreds of Papuan families are driven from their villages and subsistence farms into the inhospitable jungle. Papuans are also targeted for aggressive Islamisation. One of the most insidious methods to come to light in recent years is the seduction or abduction of Papuan children who are then taken to Java, held captive in Islamic boarding schools, forcibly converted to Islam, given Muslim names and indoctrinated in puritanical Salafi Islam. Years later, once these Papuan youths are fully Islamised, they are returned to Papua as Muslim missionaries. Those who have escaped from the Islamic schools tell of harsh conditions and cruel punishments. The number of children affected is believed to be in the thousands. Furthermore, it is evident that knowledge of this practice reaches right up into the highest echelons of Indonesia's political elite who tolerate this criminal activity as it serves a political end -- Islamised Papuans are less interested in independence. It appears that organised human trafficking rings are involved, including a small but active network of agents and middlemen who seek out vulnerable children and then bring them to the Islamic boarding schools. Investigative journalist Peter Bachelard comments, 'It's unclear if these men are paid for their work, or who might be funding it, but there is a suspicion that oil money from Saudi Arabia may play a role.'

[For more details and recommended reading/viewing, see Religious Liberty Monitoring (9 July 2014).]

Papua's predominantly Christian, indigenous Papuans desperately need change. However, it is highly unlikely that Islamists or the TNI or all the corrupt business and political elites who reap financial gain from Islamist and TNI business in Papua will simply give up their ambitions and economic rewards for the sake of those widely regarded as 'black infidels'. If change is to come to Papua, it will require profound conviction and commitment in Jakarta backed (or even generated) by a profoundly convicted and committed 'international community'. As in 2000, any reform will face considerable opposition.
courtesy: World Team

On the other hand, if there is no reform and everything goes on quietly as it is, then the demise -- the genocide -- of Papua's indigenous peoples is within sight. Of course for many that merely spells 'problem solved'. Such thinking is an evil the Church cannot abide. For 'the Lord's portion is his people', they are 'the apple of his eye.' (See Deuteronomy 32:9-11.)


* use this time of presidential transition in Indonesia to stir up international conviction and consensus that the situation in Papua is absolutely unacceptable and must change. 'Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves ...' (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV)

* flood Papua's civic and religious Christian leaders with divine wisdom, strength and grace, to lead the people according to God's will.

* awaken and energise the Church to advocacy and intercession (advocacy to the highest authority) on behalf of our gravely threatened Papuan brothers and sisters. 'Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' (Matthew 18:18 ESV)

'The efficacy of prayer is seen in that Hezekiah through his dependence upon God had more power that the armies of Judah and the hosts of Sennacherib' (H. Lockyer, commenting on Isaiah 37. Sighted in 'Turn Back the Battle', p 253.)

* intervene in Indonesia, in Papua, to change the situation radically -- to 'turn back the battle'. 


As Indonesians elect a new president, Papua's long-suffering, predominantly Christian, indigenous ethnic Melanesians are desperate for change. They have suffered decades of Javanese-Muslim colonisation, militarisation, Islamisation and systematic human rights abuses. Together with poverty, neglect and marginalisation, the situation facing indigenous Papuans is dire. It is certain that any attempted reform in Papua will be opposed fiercely by Islamists and the Indonesian military (TNI), along with the corrupt business and political elites who reap financial gain from Islamist and TNI business in Papua. However, we can be certain also that, without reform, the genocide of Papua's indigenous peoples is within sight. Pray that the 'international community' -- and particularly the Church -- will commit to supporting reform in Papua. Please pray for the Papuan Church, and for God to intervene in Papua.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)