Throughout modern history West Papua has been, and still is part of the Melanesian family of islands in the Pacific, and as such not a part part of Indonesia archipelago. Under fraudulent elections it was taken by the Indonesian government during the 1960s. Its inhabitants are Melanesian and for thousands of years have been blessed to live in an incredible land full of natural resources and a distinctively wonderful indigenous people and culture.
West Papua in Red
The History of Broken Agreements
Today, West Papuans are still fighting for their independence from colonial Indonesia, the country that has been occupying West Papua for the past five decades. In 1969 Indonesia took full control of West Papua. This occurred and after the disputed referendum known as the ‘Act of Free Choice’ (AOFC) ( a fraudulent election that took place seven years after the signing of the New York Agreement (NYA) on August 15, 1962, at the United Nations Headquarter in New York City).
For five decades, an estimated half million West Papuans — including innocent people; men, women, and children, have died at the hands of the Indonesian occupiers; military and police. Indonesia used the military and police to seize indigenous lands and give them to settlers and foreign corporations. There are mining operations going back to the early 1960s, natural gas mines, and Palm Oil plantations in West Papua that devastated a whole swath of our ancestral virgin forests, with the revenues flowing directly into the Indonesian treasury and foreign organizations. Those who are have been willing to challenge these injustices, are locked up as political prisoners. Some have spent decades behind bars for petty charges, most of them unfounded. Even so, Indonesia remained the occupying force in West Papua.
Fifty years since the AOFC was passed, and fifty-six years since the Canberra Agreement (CA), Indonesia is still in West Papua — suppressing the rights of West Papua intimidating our people every day. There are police stations from Jayapura to Merauke, and military bases at the border areas and in major cities of West Papua. And we know from recorded sources and from eye-witnesses that human rights violations and religious persecution continue unabated in West Papua to this very day.
Following the NYA, the Indonesian government also signed another agreement — the Rome Agreement (RA). On September 30, 1962, the Indonesian government signed the RA, which Indonesia agreed to administer West Papua for 25 years. That agreement began on May 1963 and ended on May 1, 1988. That 25-year agreement was also part of the international agreement known as the Canberra Agreement, or the South Pacific Commission Agreement, which was signed on February 6, 1947 — two years after World War II. Many Melanesian countries such as Fiji (October 10, 1970), Papua New Guinea (September 16, 1975), Solomon Islands (July 7, 1978), and Vanuatu (July 30, 1980) gained their independence from their colonial governments because of that agreement. Unfortunately, the Indonesian government refused to relinquish control of West Papua.
Since signing, and failing to adhere to the principles of these agreements, Indonesian successive governments implemented zero tolerance on indigenous West Papuans. That is, if anyone protested against Indonesian occupation, he or she spent years in prison. That policy never changed; from Suharto to the current regimes. But I want to turn my attention to the persecution of particularly the Christians in West Papua.
Christian Persecution in West Papua
The greatest danger to our indigenous community in West Papua is the presence of the Indonesian military and police. They are engaging in the senselessness persecution of innocent indigenous people. Our people are not allowed to peacefully protest, and when they do, in defiance of police orders, they are abused by police and military. Our people are not allowed to freely express their faith and their democratic rights in public gatherings and in public speaking. Those who pray in public are often arrested and tortured. Here are few instances, of many, of the the Christian persecutions in the hands of the Indonesian soldiers:
On December 14, 2018, at Polimak, Port Numbay, Mr. Septinus Paiki, a colleague of mine who is also a former political prisoner who served 10 years in prison – a West Papuan leader known to many for his community service, led a public gathering to mark the 30 years of the declaration of independence of West Papua in 1988 and was harassed and abused by Indonesian police. That was the day when my late uncle, Dr. Thom Wainggai, declared West Papua the ‘Independent State of West Melanesia.’ Participants gathered to pray and to thank God — the “Shepherd of the land of West Papua.” In response, the Indonesian military intervened, threatened Mr. Paiki with bodily harm if he continued. Many heart-wrenching stories have come out of Nduga in the past few weeks.
Emotional tales of families torn apart: children telling stories of watching their fathers being killed and burned violently with kerosene near their homes. This incident was allegedly carried out by TNI and POLRI officers in an operation in Nduga area since the second week of December, 2018. In that operation, Indonesian military allegedly used banned weapons to carry out their mission in areas populated by mostly civilian innocent people, including elderly, women, and children.
Advance Religious Freedom Conference – Washington, D.C
The most recent attack on our Christian brothers and sisters in West Papua occurred just last month. I was invited to attend the “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom” meeting, which took place from July 15 to 19 2019 here in Washington, D.C. We support this meeting and its goals that is to advanced “Freedom” everywhere — a very important theme to our struggle back home in West Papua. I was fortunate to attend a religious freedom conference, which ran from July 16 to 18, at the US Department of state building. I spoke at the side event on July 17.
Back at home, West Papuan supporters – who are Christians by faith and those who believed in our cause – gathered in West Papua to show their support but the Indonesian government intervened. Our innocent supporters, having been trapped by a threatening Indonesian military and police force held hands and sang hymns and prayed for peace and for the future of West Papua. The Indonesian police also went to the church at Port Numbay intimidated and checked West Papuan members of the congregation and questioned them as they made their way to church.
The next day, July 15, 2019, our supporters took to the streets again to hold a public rally in support of my presentation at the Freedom and Self-determination event. Afterward, we received words from West Papua that the Indonesian government had cracked down on the rally. They violently dispersed the crowd and blocked public streets and roads.
Again, innocent people are being abused and prevented from exercising their ‘God-given democratic rights’ to peaceful gathering and public prayer in open spaces.
The international community must know that their inaction against these abuses empowers Indonesia to continue with the persecution. It is quite hard to believe that a country that is an active participant in various UN forums and a sitting member of the UN Security Council could be allowed to violate the rights of indigenous people without any condemnation from the international community. We need their support.
The persecution of Christians, mostly indigenous people, cannot be ignored by the International community. We want a free West Papua where people live free and can express their personal and religious views. We want to freely express our rights to challenge the validity of the Indonesian occupation of our land. Until then, we will continue to protest peacefully until those rights are granted, and until our right to worship without being attacked in our chapels can be respected.
We are Christians with strong faith in God. We begin our public gatherings with prayers and bible readings, and no matter what we encounter in the face of persecution, we believe God is on our side. For instance, when I was facing the intimidation of the Indonesian police and military who wanted to kill me like they my uncle years back, I believe God was with me. I was put through psychological tortured during my harassment and imprisonment, threatened with guns in order to reveal my fellow believers but I wasn’t scared. And it was also the guiding hands of God that I believe guided us on our escape to Australia in 2006.
We are highlighting these issues because we know that the media is not willing or able to report them. To this day, West Papua is still under the control of Indonesia and the international press is not allowed in. Recently, reporters were arrested and deported, others spent some time in prison before deported back to their countries. Unfortunately the Indonesian newspapers are instruments of the Indonesian regime and won’t report such violations objectively.
It is our hope that we will receive the support of men and the grace of God to pursue our dreams.