Benny Mawel and Budi Sutrisno, Jakarta and Jayapura – The recent killing of pastor Yeremia Zanambani in Intan Jaya regency, Papua, allegedly carried out by personnel from the Indonesian Military (TNI) is the third case targeting a churchman in Papua since 2004, a church fellowship has said.
The TNI has denied involvement in all three killings, accusing separatists of killing two of them and claiming that the other one was not actually dead. Human rights institutions have called on the government to open an independent investigation to shed light on the killings.
President of the Papuan Baptist Churches Fellowship, Sokratez Sofyan Yoman, has alleged that prior to Yeremia, TNI members shot dead two other pastors, namely Geyimin Nirigi and Elisa Tabuni, in separate incidents.
Geyimin was killed in Mapenduma district, Nduga regency, on Dec. 19, 2018, he said, adding that the victim was reportedly forced to dig a grave in the backyard of his house, before being shot dead and his body burned.
"[Geyimin] had been a church pioneer since 1963. He was an old man, a figure who had received the gospel in Nduga," Sokratez told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
Socratez said a TNI spokesman at that time had denied the allegation, saying Geyimin was alive and well. However, he added, the results of an investigation by the Papuan Human Integrity Justice and Peace Foundation showed that Giyimin had died, allegedly at the hands of TNI personnel.
Meanwhile, Elisa was reportedly handcuffed and shot dead by members of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) in Tingginambut district, Puncak Jaya regency, on Aug. 16, 2004, Sokratez said.
He said the TNI had also denied this allegation, claiming that Elisa had died at the hands of Goliath Tabuni, a separatist leader based in the district.
Socratez strongly condemned the recent killing of Yeremia, as well as the other two cases, saying that it was "an accursed act before God and man."
"The cruelty, violence and savagery of the TNI against the pastors is an affront to humanity and should be condemned," he said.
Local news in Papua reported that Yeremia was shot dead on his way to his pig pen on Saturday, at the same time as a military operation was taking place.
Socratez said at least seven churches had been emptied, with many members of the congregations fleeing into the forests, as a result of military operations in Papua.
Yeremia was the head of a theological school in Hitadipa district in Intan Jaya and a pastor in the Imanuel Hutadipa congregation of the Indonesian Evangelical Christian Church (GKII). He was also a Bible translator and a community leader of the Moni tribe.
Executives of the GKII and the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI), as well as figures from the Moni tribe, are currently probing the incident.
The PGI has sent a letter to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, urging him to establish an independent team to thoroughly investigate this case, with support from the Papuan Police and the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) in Papua.
Socratez urged Jokowi to end military operations in Papua. He also urged the Papuan Council of Churches (WPCC) to write to the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) to urge Pacific island nations to raise the issue at a United Nations forum.
Komnas HAM commissioner Beka Ulung Hapsara said the commission had received a report regarding the latest incident from Papuan Students Alliance head John Gobay on Monday, and had immediately launched an investigation into the case.
"We have not concluded who is responsible. However, Komnas HAM believes that the government needs to evaluate its security approach in Papua to stop the cycle of violence involving TNI, armed groups and civil society, to which a long list of people have fallen victim," Beka told the Post on Tuesday.
Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid urged the government to investigate Yeremia's case and provide an explanation whether TNI personnel were responsible for the incident.
"This shooting again shows the failure of the state to bring peace to Papua. Since the beginning of the year, there have been at least 15 cases of extrajudicial shootings there. When can Papuans be free to live in peace?" Usman said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Papua Police said the latest incident was committed by an armed group, aiming to attract global attention ahead of the UN General Assembly scheduled for the end of this month, although the police were investigating the motive behind the shooting.
TNI spokesperson for the Joint Regional Defense Command III in Papua Col. Gusti Nyoman Suriastawa also said Yeremia had been shot by an armed group, although he said he was still waiting for the results of an investigation by the Cendrawasih Regional Military Command.
"I don't know [if there were two previous cases]. It's been a long time. I'm afraid I might provide an incorrect statement. Let's all wait for the investigation while we mourn the deceased," he told the Post.
Cendrawasih Regional Military Command spokesperson Lt. Col. Reza Patria said on Tuesday that his team was still investigating the incident and declined to elaborate further.