Father John Bunay (right), reads out a statement on Dec. 10 signed by more than 100 Catholic priests in Papua calling for an end to violence and to demand Indonesian bishops pay serious attention to the problems of Papuans. (Photo: YouTube screenshot)
More than 100 Catholic priests in Papua have called for an end to violence and called on bishops to do more to help address the situation in Indonesia’s restive easternmost region.
In a statement, read by their spokesman Father John Bunay, they said that they "felt called to speak out and voice the concerns and be the conscience of the people that God had entrusted."
The statement was read out on Human Rights Day on Dec. 10 during a press conference broadcast on Youtube and attended by around 20 of the priests.
"We are the voice of the pregnant and nursing mothers, young children, parents and young people, the sick, the blind, the deaf and the lame, all the helpless who now live in anxiety and fear in Papua,” they said.
The statement was signed by 147 diocesan and religious priests.
They said the human rights situation in Papua continues to deteriorate, and that victims of violence have recently included “church servants.”
They pointed to the killing of Protestant pastor, Yeremia Zanambani, shot by soldiers in Intan Jaya district on Sept. 19, and Rufinus Tigau, a catechist who was shot by security forces on Oct. 26.
Despite several Papua bishops voicing concerns with Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD during a meeting following the killings, nothing has been done to address the killings while for the military it has been business as usual, the priests said.
The military and paramilitary groups operating in Papua have often been criticized for adopting a heavy-handed approach to dealing with a low-level insurgency in the region which has included human rights violations.
The priests said the presence of paramilitaries was of major concern and called on President Joko Widodo to withdraw them immediately.
They also called on the army and pro-independence groups to cease “armed violence and open negotiations mediated by the state or a neutral party.”
The decade-long conflict started when the government began to suppress the Free Papua movement that seeks freedom from Indonesia, which took over the region in 1963 after the Dutch withdrew.
Free Papua Movement has been accused of conducting a guerrilla war against the Indonesian military and police."Violence never solves problems, instead it will add a million new miseries and problems," the statement said.
As for bishops in Papua, they said they were, "longing for the shepherd who is at the forefront to act to save God's people.”
Franciscan Father Paulus Tumayang, one of the signatories, said the priests’ concerns were born from real experiences and meeting with people.
"We are not affiliated with any group. This is purely our voice as servants of God,” said the parish priest of St. Peter and Paulus Argapura church in Jayapura Diocese.
Father John Djonga, an activist priest, said they had to speak out because they feel that the government does not care about Papuans anymore.
"There is an impression that the government no longer feels responsible for this situation. Therefore, we have to speak up,” he said.
When asked to comment by UCA News, bishop’s conference president, Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo responded by saying the bishops’ conference was “looking for an effective way to support our brothers and sisters in Papua with the hope that it will have more impact. It's still being worked on."