Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Papua (Indonesian): This is What State Terror Looks Like.

by Elizabeth Kendal 

On Sunday 25 April a small detachment of Indonesian security personnel was patrolling a crime scene in Puncak Regency, in the Central Highlands of Papua Province, when it was ambushed by Papuan rebels. A firefight ensued and Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) provincial intelligence chief Brig. Gen. I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha was shot dead in what appears to have been a planned assassination

Indonesian President Joko Widodo immediately called for retaliation. 

On Thursday 29 April, police claimed to have killed nine Papuan fighters in Puncuk district on Tuesday 27 April in retaliation for Nugraha’s killing. However, the spokesman for the rebel group, Sebby Sambom denied the claim, calling it a “big lie” and “propaganda” designed to boost the Indonesian military’s (TNI) morale.  


On 29 April, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD announced that Papuan armed criminal groups (Kelompok Kriminal Bersenjata: KKB) would now be categorized as ‘terrorists’ in line with Counterterrorism Law No. 8/2018. The Counterterrorism Law grants security forces the power to authorise massive disproportionate surveillance, and detain suspects for longer periods without charge, increasing the risk that suspects will be abused and tortured. 

Papuan Governor Lukas Enembe immediately urged the government to reconsider. He warned that, rather than helping the situation, the “terrorist” designation could instead bring much harm. Governor Enembe “reiterated the Papua administration’s demand for the central government to tone down its heavy-handed approach in tackling problems in the province. ‘We want the security approach in Papua to be conducted in a more humane [manner], with an exchange of words and ideas, not an exchange of bullets,’ he said on Thursday [29 April]. He also urged the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the National Police to thoroughly assess the armed groups’ strength, location and characteristics to avoid civilian casualties or wrongful arrests.”

Numerous human rights organisations and advocates – including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) – similarly denounced the move and expressed concerns that the terrorist designation could trigger racist violence against Papuans outside of Papua, and be used to justify mass, gross human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture and killings, much of it compounded by the extreme racial-religious hatred so many Javanese Muslims (especially in the Indonesian military) have for their Melanesian predominantly Christian compatriots. 

Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said that the designation only showed the government’s failure to address the root of Papua’s problems and most probably will hurt rather than help that Papuans. “Based on our monitoring, military and police personnel allegedly often justify the killing of Papuan people by claiming that they were members of the Free Papua Movement [OPM] or ‘armed criminal groups’ without providing clear evidence – claims that are often denied by local residents and church leaders,” he said in a statement. “The [new] ‘terrorist’ label will only serve as further justification for such terrible human rights abuses.” (Jakarta Post, 2 May)


On Sunday 2 May, Indonesian media reported that the Indonesian military (TNI) had deployed its 400-strong elite Infantry 315/Garuda Battalion to Papua. Video footage has been released of the battle-hardened battalion – which earned its nickname “Satan’s Forces” (pasukan setan) in East Timor where it came to known for its brutal methods – performing military drills in Papua in 1 May.  

'Satan's Forces' perform military drills in Papua, 1 May 2021

On 4 May, Papuan leader-in-exile Benny Wenda issued a statement in which he warned: “huge Indonesian military operations, some of the largest in years, are imminent in West Papua. The internet is being cut off, hundreds more troops are being deployed, and we are receiving reports that West Papuan civilians are fleeing from their villages in Intan Jaya, Puncak Jaya, and Nduga regencies . . . This looks like it will be the biggest military operation in West Papua since the late 1970s. . .” 

UK-based Wenda warned that along with Satan’s Forces, the Jala Mangkara Detachment (Denjaka), elite troops of the Indonesian Navy, are also being deployed for what he insists is “state terrorism”. 

On 6 May Reuters confirmed that internet services have been disrupted in the provincial capital of Jayapura and nearby Sentani (40km to the west) since 30 April. Exiled Indonesian rights activist Victoria Koman, said she had received reports that mobile and internet services in Puncak have also been disrupted. Papua has gone dark!

Andreas Harsono, a researcher with HRW’s Indonesia office is not alone in his assessment that, “The underlying problem in Papua is racism: racism against the dark skinned and curly haired people, and of course those that do most of the human rights abuses against ethnic Papuans, these dark-skinned, curly-haired people who are predominantly also Christian in Muslim-majority Indonesia, are Indonesian soldiers and police officers.” (RNZ, 7 May)

As tensions soared, Harsono urged the Indonesian government to put the threat posed by Papuan KKB into perspective. “According to Indonesian military estimate, they only have (around) 200 weapons. It is tiny, it is insignificant. Of course they are criminal, they kill people. Of course the police should act against them. But branding them as a terrorist organisation, these people who live in the forest who try to defend their forest, their culture, and their own people, mostly using bows and arrows, this is going to be ridiculous. This is going to affect these indigenous people so much.” 

What do children at this Christian school in Papua
want to be when they grow up?
A Pastor, a missionary, a pilot . . . 
Photo by Jeremy Weber, for his article, 
Life and Death in ‘The Land of the Clouds’,
Christianity Today, November 2020.

Which brings us to the truth

The real goal of this totally disproportionate military offensive is not security! The real goal is not to neutralise an existential terrorist threat, for there isn’t one! To the contrary, the real goal of state terror is always political! The real goal is to eliminate resistance to Indonesian rule by massively increasing the cost. The real goal is to spiritually crush and intimidate into silence every indigenous, ethnic Melanesian, predominantly Christian Papuan who has ever so much as dreamt of Papuan freedom! 


In his book Useful Enemies: When Waging Wars is More Important than Winning Them, (Yale University Press, 2012), Professor David Keen explains how war and violence can have a political function. “This is war’s possible function in intimidating a broad swathe of the population – well beyond the rebels or named enemy.”  

Keen quotes Shelton David who wrote concerning Guatemala: “Most observers are in agreement that the purpose of the Guatemalan army’s counterinsurgency campaign was as much to teach the Indian population a psychological lesson as to wipe out a guerrilla movement that, at its height, had probably no more than 3,500 trained people in arms.” 

Keen also quotes a donor who told him, “There was never a huge guerrilla movement [in Guatemala] – it was more used by the army so they could do what they wanted.” 

What’s more, Keen adds, the counterinsurgency narrative “provided cover and legitimacy for violence against a broad range of political activists and human rights workers”.

Critically, Keen quotes the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Classification which assessed that, “at no time during the internal armed confrontation did the guerrilla groups have the military potential necessary to pose an immanent threat to the State. The number of insurgent combatants was too small to be able to compete in the military arena with the Guatemalan Army, which had more troops and superior weaponry, as well as better training and coordination . . .  The State deliberately magnified the military threat of the insurgency, a practice justified by the concept of the internal enemy. . . [an identification which] served to justify numerous and serious crimes . . . the vast majority of the victims of the acts committed by the State were not combatants in the guerrilla groups, but civilians.” 

While these excerpts (which are taken from pages 112-113), relate to the conflict in Guatemala (1969-1996), they could just as easily be written today in relation to the conflict in Papua (1969 – ongoing). For as was the case in Guatemala (and numerous other conflicts), the Indonesian State is intentionally exaggerating the threat so it can target “politically inconvenient opponents under the cover of a wider war”. 

And make no mistake, this is a war

On 11 May, the Guardian quoted Lanikwe, a women’s community leader, from Wamena, near Puncak, who said the situation for local people was dire. “Thousands are displaced in Puncak, five villages fled into the jungle. Health clinics and schools have been taken over by the military. Soldiers are everywhere. We are living in a war zone.”


Arrested: Victor Yeimo in handcuffs, 9 May 2021.

On Sunday 9 May, Indonesian police in Papua’s provincial capital, Jayapura, arrested Victor Yeimo (38), one of the most prominent leaders inside Papua. 

The Indonesian government is accusing Yeimo of treason, which as UK-based Wenda explains, is ridiculous. “He is accused of ‘masterminding’ the 2019 West Papua Uprising, which was started by Indonesian racism and violence [RLM (27 Aug 2019)] and ended in a bloodbath caused by Indonesian troops” [RLPB 521 (24 Sept 2019)]. 

Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman said the case against Yeimo “feels forced and baseless, but if it goes to court, there is a high chance that judges will find him guilty – even with weak evidence.” 

It might be ridiculous and it might be a sham, but as People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Speaker, Bambang Soesatyo so shamelessly explained at the outset, the real goal is to ‘destroy them first’ and ‘discuss human rights matters later’. 


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 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Military Coup Leaves Burma’s Christian Peoples Gravely Imperilled

By Elizabeth Kendal

General elections were held in Burma (Myanmar) on 8 November 2020. There were problems, mostly on account of on-going conflict and massive displacement. However, 95 percent of international observers deemed the process "good" or "very good" and a "democratic success". 

NLD supporters celebrate with poster
of Aung San Suu Kyi .

As soon became clear, Myanmar’s ruling, pro-reform, National League for Democracy (NLD) party had won a majority of seats in parliament, increasing its gains at the expense of the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Consequently, despite being guaranteed 25 percent of seats (as mandated by the 2008 constitution) the Tatmadaw (Burmese military) was faced with the prospect that its days as the real power in Burma were coming to an end. 

Most analysts believe the military started plotting its takeover in January, after talks with the NLD failed and the Generals realised they had lost control. On 26 January, in a press conference in the capital Naypyitaw, military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun laid the foundation for the 1 February coup with his unsubstantiated claim the polls were marred by irregularities and fraud. 

Myanmar’s coup regime cut of old military cloth
By Bertil Lintner, Asia Times Online, 21 Feb 2021 

Make no mistake; for the Tatmadaw, the stakes are high. As Htwe Htwe Thein writes (Asia Times Online, 15 Feb), "For decades the military has amassed wealth by controlling the state bureaucracy and establishing near-monopolies in key sectors. The reform agenda of the civilian-led National League for Democracy government threatened to weaken – albeit gradually over time – this lucrative system of crony capitalism." The Tatmadaw’s ‘conglomerates control businesses and investments in sectors ranging from beer, tobacco and consumables to mines, mills, tourism, property development and telecommunications." Not only had the NLD already taken its first steps towards de-militarising the country, it promised to tackle military domination of key parts of the economy after the 2020 election.

coup leader, commander in chief
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing 
On the morning of Monday 1 February, the Tatmadaw staged its coup; replacing and detaining Burma’s elected leaders and State Ministers, installing themselves in the centre, and declaring a 12-month state of emergency. 

Like many others, Benedict Rogers believes that the personal ambition of coup leader commander in chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing played a big part in his decision to launch the coup. 

Benedict Rogers on the military coup in Myanmar/Burma
YouTube, CSW UK, 22 Feb 2021

Who is Myanmar’s coup leader and what does he want?
Time the world started asking questions about General Min Aung Hlaing
By Nicholas Coppel, Nikkei Asia, 23 February 2021 

If the Tatmadaw thought the masses would meekly comply, they were gravely mistaken. Instead, the coup has triggered a crisis as the people rise as one to resist military rule. By the end of February, at least 20 civilians had been killed and scores wounded and arrested as the Tatmadaw – one of the most greedy, corrupt and violent human rights abusers on the planet – strikes back with deadly force.


Kachin villagers and internally-displaced people
in church in Myitkyina, Myanmar, May 2018.
Source WSJ, Photo: Ye Aung Thu

As Christian charity Open Doors rightly notes, the military takeover in Burma (Myanmar) will greatly "exaggerate existing vulnerabilities for Myanmar’s Christian minority". Christians comprise around six percent of the population; most are Protestant, mainly Baptist (1.7 million, mainly ethnic Karen, Kachin and Chin, the legacy of pioneer missionary Adoniram Judson) – along with some 750,000 Catholics. 

While the crackdown against anti-coup protestors in the major ethnic-Burman and Buddhist cities of Yangon (Rangoon) and Mandalay is being widely reported by mainstream media, the situation throughout the periphery – in Burma’s ethnic minority states (where most of the country’s Christians live) – remains, as ever, dark. 

Pay attention to what’s happening in Myanmar, Baptist pastors plead.
By Jeff Brumley, Baptist News, 19 Feb 2021

Yet it is in these ethnic minority states that the Tatmadaw has long committed its worst crimes – bombing, burning, strafing of villages; killing, torturing, raping of civilians; plundering, exploiting, trafficking and abusing – all with impunity. 

The inhumane barbarity with which the Tatmadaw commits these crimes is the product of its lust for power, its covetous greed, and its Burman-Buddhist ethnic-religious supremacism (by which it dehumanises its victims). 

Writing for The Diplomat (25 Feb), Stella Naw shines a light on the situation in Kachin State where “there is a longstanding and visible military presence, and soldiers arguably act with greater impunity due to the lack of outside scrutiny.

“This has certainly been the case in the way that soldiers have cracked down on anti-coup protesters in Kachin, who have reported being beaten, shot with rubber bullets and slingshots, and arrested over the last week.”

Naw describes how the junta moved quickly to depose the state’s NLD-appointed State Minister, and replace him with a “Kachin crony” aligned with the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). “Kachin analysts predict he will use the chief minister’s position to further enrich himself and his business associates.”

Naw also reports that “On 13 February residents of [the Kachin capital] Myitkyina noticed that the city’s primary source of electricity, the Buga power plant [which is owned by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), a political and armed organisation that the Myanmar military has designated as illegal], had been occupied by several dozen Myanmar soldiers. People did not know why the military had asserted control over the plant, but worried they would shut off their power.”

Furthermore, Naw reports, on two occasions during 2020, coup mastermind and military chief Min Aung Hlaing made official visits to Putao – Kachin State’s northern most town (close to the border with China) – and expressed an interest in developing the remote region. Then, on 29 January 2021, just three days before the coup, “the entire unit of Myitkyina’s regional Infantry Battalion 21 – around 200 men and their family members – was deployed to Putao to be permanently based there.” 

By Stella Naw, The Diplomat, 25 Feb 2021

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has expressed concern that troops are invading towns and severing transport routes, making it even more difficult to get aid to some 100,000 displaced Kachin. 

Burma expert Benedict Rogers commented on 1 March, that among the many images to haunt him, is that of SFX (St Francis Xavier) Sister Nu Thawng in Myitkyina, Kachin State, tearfully knelling before police begging them not to shoot the protestors.

Words are not enough to stop Myanmar’s carnage
Suspension from ASEAN, sanctions and an arms embargo are needed to make the trigger-happy generals think again.
By Benedict Rogers, UCA News, 1 March 2021

Begging for mercy: Sister Nu Thawng in Myitkyina, Kachin State, Feb 2021
image source

In Karen State (around 30 percent Christian) some 5000 Christians are currently displaced in the jungle because the Tatmadaw has destroyed at least 23 villages over the past two months. In a report published on 7 February, David Eubank, founder of the Free Burma Rangers, commented that the Karen feel that “their own lives haven’t changed: they were attacked before the coup and they are being attacked now after the coup.” Karen News reports (mid Feb) that in Karen State, as in Kachin State, the Burmese Army has blocked access to humanitarian aid.


The ousted government has formed the ‘Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw [Assembly of the Union: i.e. parliament]’ (CRPH). 

Significantly, as Benedict Rogers writes (UCA News 1 March 2021), the CRPH has appointed, Dr Sasa, an inspirational, highly regarded ethnic Chin and Christian (and long-time friend of Rogers), as its special envoy to the United Nations. 

“Suddenly,” writes Rogers, “seemingly out of nowhere, Sasa is the CRPH’s nominated special envoy to the United Nations. His picture adorns banners across the nation. Protesters throughout Myanmar are saying that he is their only representative. He has been catapulted into national prominence.” 

And as Rogers notes, “That is both exciting and dangerous.”

For more on Dr Sasa and the suffering of the Chin people, see:
11 Sept 2019, YouTube (52:13 mins). 

While Western democracies must rally in support of Burma’s peoples, the only power that wields any influence over the Tatmadaw, is China. 

China has massive interests in Burma and while it does not want its interests or ambitions threatened by reform, neither does it want them threatened by instability. 

Rogers is appealing for “more than words”. 

“We need a global arms embargo,” writes Rogers. “We need targeted sanctions against the military’s enterprises. And we need the UN to accept the legitimate representatives of the people of Myanmar – embodied in the form of Sasa as their envoy, in close collaboration with the very courageous Kyaw Moe Tun, working together. . .” 

As for the Church – the global Church – Rogers would like to hear its voice. “So far,” he writes, “while the voice of the Church in Myanmar has been inspiring, the voice of the Church worldwide in their support has yet to be heard.”


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