Ryan Dagur – Catholic activists in Papua have urged Indonesian authorities to refrain from employing coercive measures against their ailing provincial governor, accused of corruption in what many believe is a politically motivated case.
Papuan Governor Lukas Enembe, 55, is accused of misappropriating and pocketing public money to the tune of one billion rupiah [US$65,593), spending much of it in casinos in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.
His lawyers have dismissed the allegations as politically motivated, given his membership in Indonesia's opposition Democratic Party.
Indonesia's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has twice summoned Enembe to Jakarta to question him regarding the money trails over the past five years but he continues to evade them on health grounds.
The corruption scandal has triggered tensions in the province and Enembe's supporters have been guarding his house in the capital Jayapura amid reports that he will be summoned for the third time, and if he fails to respond, can be arrested.
The looming fear of conflict led Ferdinand Tuamis, a former member of the Papuan People's Council, a consultative body representing Papua's indigenous people, along with other prominent activists and priests to seek a peaceful solution to the impasse.
"Last week, along with other religious leaders, I met him [Enembe] to find out about his health. He is seriously ill and it was difficult for him to even talk. How could he be forced to answer questions from the KPK under such conditions," Father John Djonga, a priest and activist, told UCA News on Oct. 6.
Father Djonga felt Enembe was in no position to be questioned by the KPK officials. "I saw that he was not making this up. He has a history of illnesses and had gone abroad for treatment several times in the past," he said.
The priest said the "coercive efforts" by authorities were only making matters even worse as they confirmed "the suspicion among the Papuan people that there is a political motive behind the case."
Father Djonga said the authorities could proceed according to the law as the governor has said he will face all charges once he recovers.
Enembe's lawyer and supporters maintain the case was fabricated and part of an effort to oust him because of his friction with the federal government.
The KPK responded with a statement accusing the beleaguered governor of being investigated in other cases including money laundering and gambling in foreign countries.
Father Djonga clarified that he was "not defending anyone" but said there was politics involved with "links to the history of conflict in Papua."
Yuliana Langowuyo, director of the Franciscans' Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Secretariat, said she supports the government's efforts to crack down on corruption in Papua, but Enembe should "be allowed to undergo the treatment process before being questioned."
She said the governor enjoys the same rights as ordinary citizens. "If he is sick and it is proven by medical documents, then he should not be summoned," she told UCA News.
The easternmost Papua province has had a long-running armed insurgency for independence since it was incorporated into Indonesia through a 1969 UN-backed referendum that many Papuans consider a sham.
The distrust of the Papuan people with rulers in Jakarta continues and their leaders say it is reflected in Enembe's case.