Sunday, April 14, 2019

Papua: The Christian Crisis in Eastern Indonesia

(NOTE: The western half of the island of New Guinea, Papua was formerly known as Irian Jaya)
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

Courtesy Vanuatu, Benny Wenda presents petition to Michelle Bachelet.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet was taken by surprise on Friday 25 January when exiled Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda walked into her office.

The delegation from Vanuatu, which was in Geneva for a scheduled Universal Periodic Review (UPR), had requested and been granted a private meeting with Ms Bachelet.  Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokeswoman at the U.N. Human Rights Office, explains what took place:

“During this meeting, one member of the Vanuatu delegation, Mr. Benny Wenda, presented the high commissioner with a petition. This was not actually a meeting arranged with Mr. Wenda for that purpose,” she said, adding that Ms Bachelet “was not aware” in advance.

The petition, which Indonesia has banned, carries over 1.8 million Papuan signatures collected in secret and at great risk.

As Australian journalist and author John Martinkus explains, the petition “calls on the UN to review the controversial 1969 vote that transferred control of West Papua to Indonesia. The Act of Free Choice vote, often referred to as the Act of No Choice by its detractors, saw 1026 people – selected by the Indonesian military – vote on behalf of their fellow West Papuans to give up sovereignty for Indonesian citizenship.

“The petition also asks for West Papua to be placed back on the UN decolonisation list. This would mean the possibility of a referendum on Papuan sovereignty, which Papuans have been hoping for since a similar referendum in East Timor, now Timor-Leste, resulted in its independence from Indonesia in 1999.”

In September 2017, Benny Wenda took the petition to New York, where the UN General Assembly was in session, with the hope of getting it into the hands of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation.

Unfortunately, the committee’s chair, Rafael Ramirez (Venezuela), claimed not to have received the petition, before adding that it could not be accepted anyway, as Papua “is not on the agenda” and “Indonesia is a very good friend of ours”.

See: Papua (eastern Indonesia): a desperate and risky plea
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 426, 4 Oct 2017.

Needless to say, Mr Wenda’s 25 January coup has infuriated Indonesia. Indonesia’s Ambassador to the UN, Hasan Kleib, strongly condemned Vanuatu for essentially sneaking Wenda in and helping him get access to Bachelet.

“(They) deliberately deceived the High Commission by taking manipulative steps through the infiltration of Benny Wenda into the Vanuatu delegation,” Kleib fumed.

Mr Wenda with petition (25 January 2019, Geneva) Image: twitter

Unfortunately, in this battle for human rights, the Papuans have very few international friends. Australia, America and the United Kingdom – economically influential democracies that should be advocating for human rights in Papua – are more interested in keeping Indonesia out of China’s sphere of influence. And so the human rights of the mostly-Christian indigenous Papuans are sacrificed on the altar of good relations with Indonesia, for geo-strategic and economic gain.

The Trans-Papua Highway

One of Indonesia most controversial development projects is the Trans-Papua Highway, or Trans-Papuan Economic Corridor. The enormously expensive Trans-Papua Hwy will traverse Papua’s long-untraversable highlands, linking industries, mines and oil and gas hubs, while ploughing through pristine tropical rainforest, the world heritage listed Lorentz National Park and vast tracts of customary lands belonging to indigenous Papuans.

short film: Global Roadmap
For more information see:
Ill-advised' Papua highway imperils indigenous rights, rainforests
Rina Chandran, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 4 Feb 2019
also: Yale Environment 360

Writing in The Saturday Paper (9 Feb 2019), Australian journalist and author John Martinkus gives voice to Papuan fears.  “The 4000-kilometre road, will stretch from West Papua’s largest city, Sorong, through the Papuan mountains and forest to the town of Merauke in Indonesia’s east. Indonesian president Joko Widodo claims the road, the Trans-Papua Highway, will bring commerce and development to these remote regions. However, the highlanders see the road as a threat, which will bring Indonesian migrants and the military to the region. Many fear greater access to the highlands will destroy their way of life, as they believe it did for lowlanders living on the coast. As construction of the highway has progressed, it has catalysed many West Papuans to take up arms in opposition.”

And as Martinkus notes, “This escalation of the independence movement, one of the world’s longest-running insurgencies, brings with it the potential of an even deadlier conflict, for both sides.”

Martinkus explains that when he was in Papua in 2002, independence fighters were armed mostly with sticks, spears, bows and arrows, and maybe the odd hunting rifle. “Today,” he warns, “many West Papuan fighters are armed with Indonesian-produced weapons, bought or stolen from Indonesian soldiers.”

The fighters, he explains, are “the children of those killed, imprisoned and forced to flee during deadly confrontations with the Indonesian military in Papua’s remote central highlands. Growing up, these young Papuans also watched on as Grasberg – the world’s largest goldmine – has wreaked havoc on the environment of West Papua while generating billions for its co-owners, Freeport-McMoRan and the Indonesian government. Now adults, they have deeply held frustrations about perceived exploitation of their lands by the Indonesian government.”

Bloodshed in Nduga

On 2 December 2018, rebels affiliated with the West Papua Liberation Organization (WPLO) – a militant wing of the Free Papua Movement – abducted 25 construction workers working on the Trans-Papua Hwy in Nduga province, in the central highlands, north of the Freeport Grasberg mine. The next day the rebels took their captives to a nearby hilltop and shot them, killing 19 and injuring 4, who pretended to be dead to escape.

The WPLO claim that the laborers were actually armed Indonesian soldiers (TNI) who had attacked them. Reportedly, on 1 December, Papuans had spotted one of the laborers taking photographs of the Papuans as they raised the banned Morning Star flag in commemoration of the 1 December 1971 declaration of Papuan independence.

Displaced Papuan women
 Story of Nduga Refugees (17 Jan)
As would be expected, a heavy influx of TNI forces descended on Nduga province; retaliation has been swift and hard. While the military claims to be hunting the rebels responsible for the killings, the crackdown has forced some 32,000 mostly-Christian indigenous Melanesian Papuans to flee their homes. Many are struggling to survive in the jungle; at least nine women have given birth. In the Mbua district, two school children were shot dead by Indonesian security forces (TNI). Across Nduga region, the TNI has damaged or destroyed at least 34 schools and churches; it has also seized the SION GKI Mapenduma church for use as a military base. Those who have fled say they are too afraid to return to their homes.  Women and children are dying in the forest and camps for want of food and medical treatment.

Reports and photos have emerged of victims with deep burns. Canisters have been found which lend support to local claims that the TNI has been dropping explosive devices containing white phosphorous from helicopters.

As Chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), Benny Wenda has condemned the use of chemical weapons by the Indonesian military on Papuan civilians. He said the ULMWP has received numerous reports regarding the use of chemical burn-causing weapons on villages in the Nduga region. “We have photos of burned limbs, dead bodies and empty munitions canisters.”

Naturally the TNI denies this. In fact the TNI is denying there has been any destruction at all, claiming it is all a ‘hoax’.

Father John Djonga has called for the Indonesian government to allow access to media, humanitarian organisations and a UN human rights mission.

Benny Wenda urged all Papuans to boycott the general elections on 17 April. “We respect Indonesia’s right to hold elections in its own territory,” he said, “but we will oppose the elections of the coloniser when they are forced upon us. We have tried participating in the elections of the colonial master before – but we are still killed, tortured and discriminated against every day.”

Recommended: War in West Papua
By John Martinkus, The Saturday Paper, 9 February 2019

Papua’s Christian Crisis 

As Indonesia drifts from Pancasila to Islamisation, the human rights situation in Papua takes on a whole new urgency. These are watershed days. The future of a Christian people is in the balance.


While searching for more details on the situation in Papua, I came across the following feature article in the Jakarta Globe. It might represent a still small Indonesian voice, but it is encouraging.  It also offers some insight into Papua for those who are unfamiliar with this closed land.

Giving Hope to the Children of Papua
By Primus Dorimulu, Jakarta Globe, 6 March 2019

Staff from the Lantern of Hope School and Siloam Clinic in Daboto
with supporter James Riady (center back) and local students.
(words and images by Primus Dorimulu, Jakarta Globe)

And for a wonderful article on this ministry by Christianity Today's Jeremy Weber, see:

In the mountains of Papua, missionaries and Indonesian professionals serve the lost together.
Christianity Today, 23 NOVEMBER 2020

YPHP founder James Riady joins Mek students in Nalca for a math class.
image: Jeremy Weber


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).


Thursday, April 11, 2019

Indonesia: from Pancasila to Islamisation

Vale traditional Indonesian values
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

Indonesians will go to the polls on Wednesday 17 April to elect a president and vice-president, a weak 136-seat Senate, a powerful 575-seat House of Representatives, provincial legislatures and local councils.

Six Things You Should Know About the Indonesian Elections
By Tim Mann, University of Melbourne

“According to the KPU [Indonesian Electoral Commission], about 40 per cent of eligible voters are millennials aged 17 to 35 years old. And many of them will be voting for the first time. So the new millennial vote is considered the key to victory. . .

“Young voters are far from a homogenous group and many of those who are well connected online also hold deeply conservative views.

“One survey of school and university students by Jakarta’s State Islamic University in late 2017 found that 33 percent of young Muslims believed that acts of intolerance against minorities were ‘not a problem’ and 34 percent even believed that non-believers should be killed.”

Presidential Poll: Close and Profoundly Polarising

Indonesia: “sword” of weaponised Islam revealed 
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 469, 22 Aug 2018.

Polling indicates that the incumbent President Joko Widodo (57, also known as Jokowi) will be returned as president with the conservative Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin (76) as his Vice-President. However, the gap between Jokowi and his perpetual rival, the controversial former Suharto-era military commander Prabowo Subianto (68), has narrowed. Subianto and his running mate, the telegenic billionaire businessman Sandiaga Uno (49), have pitched their message not only to the poor who feel left behind by Jokowi’s pro-development and pro-foreign investment policies, but to the more hard-line and intolerant, Jokowi-hating fundamentalist Islamists. Pundits expect the race to be not only close, but profoundly polarising. 

John McBeth reports for Asia Times Online (9 April), “The demarcation line between voters is clear: those who support Widodo, an avowed pluralist, don’t see Islam as the basis of the state. But those who favor deeper Islamisation are behind Prabowo.”

Subianto rally 7 April

Jakarta-based Amanda Hodge is the South East Asia correspondent for The Australian. She comments (9 April) that the differences between the two presidential candidates were on display in the two political rallies that took place on Sunday 7 April. 

“While challenger and former Suharto-era military commander Prabowo Subianto’s 150,000-strong morning rally at a Jakarta stadium was an angry sermon against corruption and foreign plunderers to a sea of Islamic white, Jokowi’s afternoon carnival celebrated a vast diversity of ethnicities, races and religions.

Jokowi 'festival' 7 April

“So stark has Indonesia’s polarisation along identity lines become this election, former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono [SBY] – whose Democrats Party backs Prabowo’s bid – ¬issued a weekend warning of the importance of governing for all. ‘As a former president, I would hate Indonesia to be divided into those who are pro-Pancasila and pro-caliphate,’ he wrote in a letter to party leaders, referring to Indonesia’s founding philosophy of unity in diversity. ‘If such polarisation continues in this campaign, I worry that this nation will indeed be divided into two opposing sides who will forever be in conflict with each other.’

Hodge confirms (8 April),  “Prabowo and his 49-year-old billionaire equities-dealer running mate, Sandiaga Uno, are polling higher among urban youth – a significant voter pool in a country where almost 40 per cent of the 192 million voters are under 35.

“Prabowo has also cornered the conservative Islamic vote, which will no doubt welcome exiled cleric Rizieq Shihab’s endorsement by video-link yesterday from Mecca. The Islamic Defenders Front [FPI] leader, who fled the country in 2017 after he was charged with pornography offences and insulting the state ideology, urged voters to stage a ‘constitutional jihad’ at the ballot box and change their president.”

The Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Uno ticket has also won support from the now-banned Indonesian Hizbut Tahrir (HTI) which supports the establishment of a caliphate and the adoption of Islamic Sharia law.

In truth, these hardline Islamists have no love for Subianto or Uno, both of whom are nominal Muslims at best. But while their affection for Subianto and Uno is luke-warm and pragmatic, but their hatred for Joko Widodo red-hot and supreme.

Meanwhile, the pro-development Jokowi-Ma’ruf ticket has secured the backing of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). This is unsurprising considering Ma’ruf Amin was NU Supreme Leader until he stepped down in September 2018 in order to enter politics. Instead he will serve as a member of NU’s advisory board.

As noted by Tim Mann (University of Melbourne), “voter dissatisfaction has led to a growing movement of people declaring that they would rather sit the election out or ‘donkey vote’ (golput) than vote for either of the candidates on offer”.

Indeed, according to a recent survey by Indikator Politik, at least 20 percent of Indonesia’s roughly 192 million registered voters will abstain from voting in the presidential poll due to the deep dissatisfaction they feel with regards to the candidates.

Ma'ruf (left) and Ahok (right)
These are voters who would never vote for Subianto, primarily on account of his penchant for authoritarianism and alleged human rights abuses as a Kopassus general. But they also feel let down by Jokowi, and not only because he has failed to deliver on many of his promises. Many who would have voted for Jokowi will now be non-voters or golongan putih (golput) precisely because Jokowi’s vice-presidential running mate is Ma’ruf Amin, the cleric who, as NU Supreme Leader, testified against the ethnic Chinese Christian Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) in the controversial blasphemy trial two years ago [See: Ahok’s Blasphemy, Religious Liberty Monitoring (29 Nov 2016)]. 

Jokowi’s ideological shift has not gone unnoticed
By Endy Bayuni, The Jakarta Post, 10 April 2019

“Bidding for his reelection in the April 17 presidential race, the incumbent Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has focused his attention more on winning the hearts and minds of conservative voters, reflected among other means by his choice of running mate and giving concessions to the military. . .

“Jokowi’s apparent ideological shift may be more for expediency to ensure victory, but voters from his traditional support base to the left of the political spectrum fear it could have major policy implications for his next administration.

“Many have declared through social media memes that they will not vote, making clear they did not endorse the shift, but that they would not give their vote to the challenger who is even further to the right, embracing hard-line Islamic groups.

“How far to the right of the political spectrum is Jokowi shifting? Will he be able to resist pressures from Muslim conservatives and the military who want to have more say in his next government?

“Almost assured of election victory, Jokowi’s political fate is now very much in the hands of those on the left of the political spectrum. If there are enough of them too angry to vote because of his shift to the right, they could well deliver victory to Prabowo.”
Presidential Poll: “The Islamists Have Already Won”

Indonesia’s Next Election Is in April. The Islamists Have Already Won.
How religion has come to dominate our politics.
An opinion piece for New York Times, by Eka Kurniawan, 14 Feb 2019

Renown Indonesian novelist Eka Kurniawan believes that by nominating Ma’ruf as his Vice President, Jokowi “has built a Trojan horse for his opponents outside the walls of his own city”.

In comparing the 2019 election to that of 2014, Mr Kurniawan notes, “This year, it seems, the decisive issue will be the candidates’ professed commitment to Islam.”

According to Mr Kurniawan, “polarisation has deepened since Jakarta’s gubernatorial election two years ago.

“Mr. Prabowo and the rest of the opposition evidently learned a lot from Mr. Basuki’s [Ahok’s] downfall. In 2014, they ran an antiquated campaign based on the supposed resurgence of communism and the Indonesian Communist Party, and failed. The [2017] Jakarta election has taught them that tapping Muslim values is an effective way to galvanize popular support.

Joko Widodo & Ma'ruf Amin, Aug 2018
“With the Islamization of Indonesian society now evidently being mobilized toward political ends, Mr. Joko must proceed with caution. Yet he may have gone too far.

“To give a good impression to Muslim voters, Mr. Joko has been presenting himself as a pious leader who worships diligently. He has even become a prayer imam and makes frequent visits to Islamic boarding schools. He has also closed his eyes and ears to certain cases brought on religious grounds, knowing that any statement could inflame grass-roots Muslims. . .”

Concerning Ma’ruf Amin, Mr Kurniawan says, “He isn’t just conservative; he is intolerant. He forbids the exchange of Christmas greetings. He rejects the Ahmadiyya, an alternative Islamic sect. He condemns L.G.B.T. activities. He wants to limit houses of worship for non-Muslims.

“Mr. Joko might remain in power, but we don’t have to wait until April to find out the real outcome of this race. No matter who ends up being president, conservative Islamic groups, backed by radical groups, will win — have already won — the election.”

What might Jokowi’s vice presidential pick mean for religious freedom?
By Dr Budhy Munawar Rachman,
for Indonesia at Melbourne [University], 14 August 2018

“When Jokowi was elected [in 2014], many hoped for a reversal of the intolerance that had been allowed to develop under his predecessor [Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono]. There have been some limited improvements over the last four years, but the core concerns remain – religious minorities are still not able to fully enjoy the religious freedom they are guaranteed under the Constitution.

“Shi’a and Ahmadiyah Muslims still face discrimination. Accusations of blasphemy are still used against minorities who demonstrate religious understandings or practices that differ from the majority. Minorities still face extreme difficulty building houses of worship.

“If Jokowi is re-elected, the chances of this trend reversing are slim. Under Ma’ruf, MUI has been unwilling to accept arguments in support of minorities based on their constitutional right to religious freedom, instead relying on conservative religious interpretations that benefit the majority Muslim community. With Ma’ruf as vice president, things could well become a lot worse for minorities than they already are.”


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).