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Police occupy Church Synod Office in West Papua

Police occupy Church Synod Office in West Papua

Today (30th December 2006) members of Gereja Kingmi (the Indigenous Church in West Papua) organised demonstrations in front of the Church Synod office in Jayapura, West Papua after Indonesian Police yesterday stormed and occupied the Synod Office, injuring two Pastors in the process.

“Police accuse us of being the religious arm of the OPM (also known as the Free Papua Movement) but all we want to do is run our own affairs free of government interference and intimidation” said Pastor Benny Giay, Chair of the Kingmi Church’s Bureau of Justice and Peace. “This attack by the Police is not just against church activists working to defend human rights” said Pastor Giay, “it is an attack on the institution of the Church itself.”

“Our people are now on the street demanding that the Police leave the Synod Office so that church members can use church property” said Pastor Giay.

The occupation of Church property and the assault of the two Kingmi pastors follow a public accusation by the Indonesian minister of Defence earlier this year that the Christian Church in West Papua along with international non-government organisations is promoting independence in West Papua. It is an accusation that Pastor Giay denies.

From 1962 to 1983 the Kingmi Church (which was established by American missionaries from the Christian and Missionary Alliance) operated independently in West Papua. In 1983 Kingmi Church joined with the Gereja Kemah Injil Indonesia (The Tabernacle Bible Church of Indonesia) in order to assist the visa applications of foreign missionaries applying to live in West Papua.

“When foreign missionaries stopped coming to West Papua we decided that there was no reason to continue to remain under the control of Jakarta. In our congress this year we withdrew our membership from the Gereja Kemah Injil Indonesia and reinstated the KIngmi Church's former status as an independent Synod in West Papua. Jakarta opposes this and accuses us of being separatists” says Pastor Giay.

Jason MacLeod from the Institute of Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights (IPAHR) says that the accusation by Jakarta is ominous. “The label “OPM” is used by the police to silence debate and stigmatise West Papuans on the basis of ethnicity in order to justify repressive security operations. Church leaders in West Papua who speak out for peace and justice are regularly subject to surveillance and intimidation by the security forces.”

Pastor Giay, author of numerous books about politics and religious movements in West Papua, holds a PhD from Leiden University in the Netherlands and is well known internationally for his human rights advocacy. He is calling on his international networks to encourage Jakarta to support the right of the Kingmi Church to run their own affairs free of government interference and intimidation.

ends

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