Tuesday, February 4, 2020

RLPB 535. Papuan Provinces, Indonesia: Christian Crisis in Nduga

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 535 | 05 Feb 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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by Elizabeth Kendal

The Christian crisis in Indonesia's Papuan Provinces is not caused by a lack of religious freedom. Rather, it has its roots in the racial (Javanese) and religious (Islamic) supremacism which undergirds Indonesian government policy and military action there. Indonesia's government and military elites make a lot of money exploiting the region's resources - timber, copper, gold, gas and oil; the military (TNI) also makes lots of money providing security to mining firms. The indigenous people are viewed at best as a problem to be fixed, and at worst as 'infidels', 'blacks' and 'monkeys' to be subjugated and if necessary eliminated! The Indonesian government hides the situation behind a Jungle Curtain of secrecy. Furthermore, because friendship with Indonesia affords economic and geo-strategic benefit, the supposedly human rights-defending West turns a blind eye.

Map showing Nduga and Wamena.
click on map to enlarge.
Perched in virtually inaccessible territory, Nduga Regency in Papua's Central Highlands was cut off from the outside world until missionaries in aeroplanes arrived well into the 20th century. Remote and isolated, Nduga has remained staunchly resistant to Indonesian rule. It can be a dangerous place, not just for the TNI (who are viewed as predators), but for Papuans from other regions (who are viewed with suspicion). Welcome is reserved for the Church, which has blessed the Ndugans with education, health care, grace and new life in Jesus Christ. In December 2018 Papuan rebels abducted and executed nineteen Indonesian labourers in Nduga. The labourers had been working on the hugely controversial Trans Papua Highway which President Widodo believes will solve all Papua's problems by facilitating economic development. The Papuans, however, especially the Ndugans, view it as invasive, destructive and simply a means of facilitating further Javanese Muslim colonisation and Islamisation. The Indonesian government's response to the killings was swift, brutal and wildly disproportionate. Under the pretext of hunting rebels, the TNI 'swept' through Nduga, destroying homes and gardens, schools and churches, and displacing some 45,000 Papuans. 

Months went by but the TNI operations never ended. Unable to return home and denied access to humanitarian aid, the displaced Papuans started to die. By July 2019 the death toll amongst displaced Ndugans in the camps of Wamena was 139 [RLPB 513 (31 July 2019)].  On 21 January 2020 the Executive Director of Amnesty International, Usman Hamid, reported that the death toll amongst displaced Ndugans - from untreated illness, infected wounds (including bullet wounds) and starvation - had risen to 263. As the death toll rises, President Widodo is facing pressure from Members of Parliament, Human Rights organisations and Church groups - including the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) - to pull the TNI out of Nduga, launch a humanitarian response, and commence serious dialogue.

On 24 December Nduga's Deputy regent, Wenius Nimiangge, resigned his post citing deep disappointment with the government in Jakarta. For a year, Wenius had been lobbying the central government to withdraw Indonesian military and police from Nduga so that displaced Ndugans could return to their homes. Wenius, however, was left to lament: 'We are not respected. The central government has never responded to our request.' The last straw for Wenius came on 20 December when his driver and close aide, Hendrek Lokbere, was shot dead by Indonesian forces. Lokbere had been travelling in Yosema village, in Nduga Regency's Kenyam District, assisting local officials with preparations for Christmas celebrations. According to Wenius, the area was peaceful and Lokbere was simply shot dead in the middle of the road. Veronica Koman (Indonesian human rights lawyer in exile) posted images of Lokbere's 24 December funeral to her twitter account. Meanwhile, Indonesia's Co-ordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Mahfud M.D., scoffed at Wenius' resignation, suggesting it was nothing more than a 'political manoeuvre' based on a fabricated story about a fatal shooting that could not be verified.

If the final fate of the Papuans is dhimmitude (total subjugation under Islam, without rights) or genocide, it will only be partly due to the racial and religious supremacism of the colonial power. International indifference and Western 'interests' and priorities (money and power being valued more highly than people, even co-religionists) will also have played their part.

Ndugan internally displaced children in Wamena
 pray for their safety and family.
Image: Febriana Firdaus/Voice of Papua


* effect the withdrawal of the mostly Javanese Muslim Indonesian military from Nduga Regency, so that tens of thousands of displaced indigenous Melanesian Christians can return to their lands and homes.

* enable the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid - food and medicines - to arrest the trend of Papuan deaths from disease, infection and starvation.

* facilitate a visit by the UN Human Rights Office (which is seeking access and has been promised access) so that the Jungle Curtain of secrecy might be pulled back and the truth about Indonesia's abuses in the Papuan Provinces exposed.

* awaken and sharpen the conscience of all who call themselves Christian - indeed all who profess to care about human rights - so that the plight of Papua's indigenous Melanesian Christians may no longer be met with indifference, but countered with action ... including persistent intercessory prayer.

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (James 5:16b-18 ESV).


In December 2018 Papuan rebels abducted and executed nineteen Indonesian labourers working on the controversial Trans Papuan Highway in Nduga Regency in Papua's Central Highlands. The Indonesian government's response was swift, brutal and wildly disproportionate. Under the pretext of hunting rebels, the mostly Javanese Muslim Indonesian military (TNI) 'swept' through the Nduga Regency, destroying homes and gardens, schools and churches, and displacing some 45,000 indigenous Melanesian Christians. Today, because the TNI operations persist and because displaced Ndugans are denied access to humanitarian aid, 263 displaced Ndugans have died of sickness, infection and starvation. Human rights abuses, including murder, are committed with impunity, driven by the racial (Javanese) and religious (Islamic) supremacy of the colonial power (Indonesia). The indigenous Melanesian Christians of Indonesia's eastern Papuan Provinces desperately need our prayers.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com