Papuans trust religious leaders more than the government and that gap is widening, according to researchers at the National Commission on Human Rights.
The government’s military approach to controlling the restive region, including an incident in October where more than 300 Papuans were arrested and six killed by security forces, has inflamed resistance and resentment. With these factors in mind, religious leaders now need to take a more active role than ever in conflict resolution, the commission says.
“Conflicts in Papua cannot be solved only by the government,” the commission’s Yosep Stanley Adi Prasetyo said yesterday at the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference offices in Jakarta. “When I met with some Papuans living in remote areas, they said their trust in the government has gradually lessened."
“The situation becomes worse when Papuans have no chance to express themselves. Every protest against the government is always regarded as separatist movement,” Prasetyo said.
Father Neles Kebadabi Tebay, coordinator of the Papuan Peace Network and rector of Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and Theology in Abepura, agreed that religious leaders could do more for the situation in Papua.
“They have not united yet,” Fr Neles said. “They conduct movements individually not institutionally. As a result, these movements are not strong enough.”
However, anyone working towards conflict resolution in the region faces strong opposition.
“I often face threats while fighting for Papuans,” said Fr Johanes Djonga, an activist priest who received the 2009 Yap Thiam Hien Award. “I even received a text message saying that I would be buried alive if I kept speaking up about violence in Papua.”