Thursday, November 20, 2003

PAPUA: The Islamisation of Papua, the betrayal of a Christian people

 Date: Friday 21 November 2003
Subj: The Islamisation of Papua, the betrayal of a Christian people.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal



On 19 November 2003, The Jakarta Post reported, "The government plans to launch revisions of two conflicting laws on Papua -- Law

No.45/1999 and Law No.21/2001 -- and is preparing the draft of a government regulation on the establishment of the long-awaited Papuan People's Assembly (MRP). With the revision and amendment of the two conflicting laws, the government plans to legitimize the establishment of new provinces in Papua." (Link 1)

The Indonesian government granted Papua Special Autonomy in 2001, and was required to establish a Papuan People's Assembly (MRP) to handle Papua's issues. The Indonesian government has, however, reneged on all counts. They never established the MRP and are now re-writing the Special Autonomy Law so that autonomy will only be granted to each newly created province, removing the Papuan people's right to have a say on the issue of division.

Indigenous Papuans are predominantly Christian. Of the three provinces, two (the resource-rich West Irian Jaya province and the resource-rich Central Irian Jaya province) will be majority Muslim, Javanese transmigrants. While the primary aim of the government is undoubtedly to maintain total, unhindered control over Papua's resources, the side effects of the division will be the emasculation and marginalisation of the Christian indigenous Papuans, and the inevitable Islamisation and Javanisation (new word!) of Papua.

Sources in Papua report that the Indonesian Army is continuously attempting to provoke indigenous Papuans, looking for grounds to implement a Military Operation similar to what is taking place in Aceh. This will effectively close Papua to the rest of the world and provide a platform for the military to overwhelm the Papuan community, further marginalise this community, and then finally open Papua up "for business". Papua will then come to be totally controlled by interests coming out of the rest of Indonesia.

According to sources, these interests represent a strong Islamic dimension. It is not an exaggeration to say that the decimation of the Papuan people could be imminent.

This posting includes a comment from the Reverend John Barr (Sydney,

Australia) who has a long history of involvement in mission, ministry, human rights and justice in Papua.


In 1999, President B.J. Habibie enacted a law (Law No. 45/1999) to divide Papua into three provinces ostensibly to speed up development. However, in response to bitter opposition from the Papuan people, he eventually postponed its implementation indefinitely.

In 2001, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri signed a presidential decree (Law No. 21/2001) granting Papua Special Autonomy. This decree addressed the issue of Law No. 45/1999, saying, "Expansion of the Papua Province into provinces shall be carried out with the approval of the MRP [Papuan People's Assembly] and the DPRP [Papuan Legislative Council] giving close attention to the social cultural unity, readiness of the human resources and the economic ability and development in the future." (Law No. 21/2001 Article 76) (Link 2)

However, in early February 2003, President Sukarnoputri signed another presidential decree (Law No. 1/2003) calling for the implementation of the 1999 law to divide Papua into three provinces - West Irian Jaya, Central Irian Jaya and Papua.

Implementing Law No. 1/2003 and dividing Papua without the approval of the MRP (a body the central government was required to establish but never did) clearly violates the Special Autonomy Law No 21/2001.

(For a definition of what the MRP is supposed to look like, see Law No 21/2001 Article 1.g, article 5.2 & articles 19-25. Link 2. Also see link 3)

The Papuan people are strongly opposed to the division of Papua and had assumed that the 2001 Special Autonomy Law had rendered the 1999 law void.


On Thursday 13 November, the House of Representatives (DPR) endorsed the government's move to divide Papua into three provinces, thus giving more legitimacy to the government in moving ahead with the plan, despite strong opposition from Papuans and others such as Abdurrahman Wahid (Link 4).

On Friday 14 November, the Indonesian Minister of Home Affairs, Hari Sabarno, installed Brig. Gen. (ret) Abraham Octovianus Atururi as the governor of West Irian Jaya province, despite controversy over the status of the province.

According to the Jakarta Post (15 Nov), his inauguration marks the official split of West Irian Jaya from Papua. Atuturi's sudden inauguration prompted criticism from Papuan leaders and people, as well as protest that Atuturi's inauguration was legally flawed.

"I am afraid the inauguration will spark social conflict in Papua,"

said Frans Maniagasi, the Secretary of the Center of Information for Humanity, Justice and Truth in Papua (PIK-3-TanPa).


To fix the legal anomaly, the Indonesian government has decided it will amend the Special Autonomy Law (an act which is in itself a violation of that law - see link 2 article 77) and Law No.45/1999.

According to the Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno, the revised laws will say, "the establishment of new provinces must be with the approval of the MRP and DPRP, except for those established before the revisions." This will exempt Law No. 45/1999 from the protocols established in the 2001 Special Autonomy Law. Special Autonomy will now be granted to the individual provinces, not to Papua as a whole.


The Special Autonomy deal for Papua always rested on the establishment of the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP) and a commitment to enabling Papuans to have direct say in the future of their land.

I remember listening to a number of discussions in Papua when this move was announced by Jakarta. Many Papuans believed this was a step towards a better future. Others argued that Jakarta cannot be trusted. Unfortunately those arguing against Special Autonomy appear, at this stage, to be right.

Division of Papua into three separate provinces manipulates the changing demography of this region. With the continuing arrival of migrants from Islamic regions of Indonesia, some observers suggest the population ratio of Christian to Islam is already 50-50 (generally the figure is seen to be around 60-40 - however I am sure the ratio is much closer these days) and there is evidence indicating that the further west one goes, the more Islamic Papua becomes. Therefore the formation of three provinces creates a scenario where the most western province will have a definite Islamic majority while the central province will be very close to Islamic majority and the eastern province will remain with a Christian majority.

This means that up to two thirds of Papua will be ruled by Muslim dominated local administration. Natural resources are concentrated in the western and central regions (oil and gas reserves in the west together with copper and gold in the central province) while the eastern province is relatively poor. Jakarta argues that the division of Papua into three new provinces will aid administration in this remote region. It will certainly have the effect of further marginalising indigenous Papuans in their own land.

A war of attrition has been taking place in Papua for 40 years.

Papuans are already marginalised in terms of access to education, health care and a share in the wealth of their land. The revision and amendment of current laws accelerates the pace and one cannot help believing this is an attempt to overwhelm indigenous Papuans and their strong Christian heritage.

Papuans currently support the creation of a "zone of peace"

throughout Papua. I am deeply concerned the Minister for Home Affairs' announcement [to install Atururi as governor of West Irian Jaya province] will provoke a backlash and undermine the important peace that has been established. A tragedy of great proportions could take place. Such a tragedy will involve violence against the Papuan population through military action similar to what took place in East Timor and what is now taking place in Aceh.

It seems as though the Papuan people have nowhere to go. The present scenario indicates that most of the region will be predominantly Islamic in a matter of years.

Reverend John Barr

Executive Secretary for Unity and International Mission for the Uniting Church in Australia National Assembly.


- Elizabeth Kendal


1) Govt to revise conflicting laws on Papua; National News - 19 November 2003
by Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post.


3) Govt to emasculate Papua's special autonomy; National News - 2 September 2003
Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post

4) Following Clashes, Govt Told Not to Divide Papua, By Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur)
26 August 2003 Jakarta.

Extra background:

WEA RLC News & Analysis, "Papua: A conflict in waiting" 21 February 2003.