Christian leaders from the Guild of Papuan Churches have rallied against growing radicalism in Indonesia which they claim has penetrated the Christian-majority region.
Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar of Jayapura led church leaders and more than 1,000 Christians in a peaceful protest on May 15. There must be a concerted effort to free Papua from radical groups, the Franciscan bishop said. "The presence of radical groups [in the province] has the potential to create conflict," he told AsiaNews, urging the government to disband groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia.
Papua has no record of sectarian violence but the presence of Hizbut Tahrir in the province has raised fears of conflict between Muslims, Christians and other religious groups. The central government is working to disband Hizbut Tahrir because it aims to establish an Islamic caliphate which is against Indonesia's secular ideology.
Bishop Ladjar aloso expressed the worries of Christian leaders about Ja'far Umar Thalib, founder and former leader of Laskar Jihad – another radical group. Thalib was involved in sectarian conflict in Ambon in 1999-2002 where thousands were killed and, in 2016, his followers almost clashed with Christians in Muara Tami district, Papua. "We want the people aware of the presence of these groups in Papua before it's too late," Bishop Ladjar said.
John Baransano of the Papuan Reformed Evangelical Church, agreed. He said Papuans must realize what is going on in Jakarta and other parts of Indonesia, especially the jailing of Christian politician Basuki Tjahaja Purnama also known as "Ahok". He said, "Ahok is a victim of sectarian tension orchestrated by radical groups." The former governor of Jakarta was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy on May 9. Some allege the sentence was handed down due to pressure from radical groups.
However, some human rights activists criticized the Christian leaders for being concerned only about radicalism and ignoring ordinary Papuans who rights were being violated in their fight for independence. Father John Djonga, who advocates for the rights of Papuans, said the Christian leaders should have been more concerned about the human rights situation in Papua. Frederika Korain, a female activist, said, "Why don't the churches and bishop stage protests when Papuans are shot or killed?"
Bishop Ladjar claimed the criticism was baseless, "because the church has never been silent on such issues... we just did not protest on the streets."
Frist Ramdey, head of the human rights commission in Papua, defended Bishop Ladjar and the rally. "The church has worked hard. Human rights violations in Papua were exposed due to the efforts of Jayapura Diocese in the 1990s," Ramdey said.
About 65 percent of Papua's 3.2 million people are Protestant, 18 percent are Catholic, 15 percent Muslim and the rest are Hindu and Buddhists. (Source: UCAN)