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Indonesia police slammed for violent action inside church

Police reportedly forced entry late at night into a Kingmi church in Papua and arrested five members of the congregation
The Kingmi church in Keneyam, Nduga Regency, Papua, where Indonesian police reportedly entered by force on Sept. 17 and arrested five members of the congregation accusing them of being supporters of pro-independence groups

The Kingmi church in Keneyam, Nduga Regency, Papua, where Indonesian police reportedly entered by force on Sept. 17 and arrested five members of the congregation accusing them of being supporters of pro-independence groups. (Photo supplied)

Published: September 22, 2023 11:42 AM GMT

Church groups have joined rights activists in Papua to seek action against Indonesian police for forcibly entering a church late at night and arresting its five members, accusing them of supporting separatists.

The incident was reported on Sept. 17 around 11.30 p.m. at the Tent Gospel Church (Kingmi) in Keneyam, Nduga Regency.

“The Indonesian government and security forces must immediately evaluate the ongoing security approach to stop all forms of violence and uphold human rights in the land of Papua,” the Humanitarian Coalition for Papua said in a Sept. 22 statement.

The coalition, quoting information from the Papua Church Council, said the police "entered the bedroom area on the second floor of the church, woke up, interrogated, pulled out, and severely hit the occupants who were resting."

A pastor “suffered a blow when he was allegedly kicked by police” while the door of a room inside the church building "was damaged," it said.

The coalition called the incident “a part of the recurring violence that continues to occur in Papua.”

“In any condition, civilians, including clergy or church workers, must always have their security protected, have all their rights fulfilled and be treated humanely, in accordance with the values contained in the international humanitarian laws," it added.

The Secretariat for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation of Jayapura Diocese and Papua Bureau of Union of Churches in Indonesia joined the coalition in condemning the incident and demanding action against the police personnel involved in the incident.

Amnesty International Indonesia, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence [Kontras] and the Democratic Alliance for Papua also criticized the use of excessive force.

The incident occurred two days after the discovery of the bodies of five civilians at the mouth of the Brasa River in Yahukimo Regency on Sept. 15, following a clash between security forces and pro-independence groups.

The coalition said that "over the past year, violence in various forms has continued intensively… without [any] state accountability."

Theo Hesegem, a rights activist based in Wamena, Papua, told UCA News on Sept. 22 that he had received information from the pastor at the Kingmi church that police officers had arrived at the doors.

The officers “told him, ‘You are the leader of satanic churches, you support Egianus Kogoya [a leader of a separatist group]. You just pretend to pray,’” Hesegem quoted the pastor.

Papua Police Chief Mathius Fakhiri said the five people were arrested because they had links to an armed criminal group, a term used by the Indonesian government for those fighting for Papuan independence.

Fakhiri though admitted there “had been acts of violence by the police” and said he “had admonished the local police chief to act professionally.”

"I say this so that this case would not be used by certain groups or NGOs to criticize the actions of the security officers," he told reporters.

The coalition said the incident cannot be separated from the ongoing securitization policy of the government, which has led to an escalation of violence in Papua.

According to Kontras, there were 31 incidents of violence including shootings, torture, arbitrary arrests and other acts of violence during January-August this year.

They also recalled the murder of Pastor Yeremia Zanambani in 2020. The actual perpetrators of his murder are yet to be brought to justice in a military court, where the trial is underway.

A former Dutch colony, Papua declared itself independent in 1961, but neighboring Indonesia took control two years later, promising an independence referendum.

The subsequent vote in favor of staying part of Indonesia was widely considered a sham. Since then, Indonesia has continued to maintain a military presence to fight the pro-independence rebels.

According to data from the advocacy group Imparsial, the number of soldiers posted in Papua is 16,900, most of them belonging to trained combat units.

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