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Hundreds demonstrate in front of Jayapura synod

Radio Australia - May 16, 2007

First to the Indonesian province of Papua, where police armed with water canon and M16 rifles are occupying a Jayapura church at the centre of a dispute over the synod's independence. Two hundred members of the Gereja Kingmi, the Indigenous Church in Papua, demonstrated in front of the synod office, angered by a police order to handover control of assets to Indonesia's Tabernacle Bible Church. It comes despite a court ruling last month in favour of the Kingmi Church.

Presenter/Interviewer: Bill Bainbridge

Speakers: Matthew Jamieson of the Institute for Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights; Reverend Benny Giay, Chair of the Kingmi Church's Bureau of Justice and Peace

Bainbridge: Members of the Kingmi Church in Jayapura claim they are suffering for their independence from Jakarta after their synod was taken over by police on Sunday. A demonstration which blocked traffic for hours outside the synod on Monday failed to resolve the issue. Matthew Jamieson, of the Institute for Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights, describes the scene.

Jamieson: There's a demonstration of 200 people outside the synod office and there was a number of police who came in five trucks and there's the paramilitary police and then there was a water canon. The demonstration of the Kingmi congregation was very peaceful and then the police were also on the top of the synod office with automatic rifles.

Bainbridge: The church was part of the Tabernacle Bible Church of Indonesia, known as the GKII, for more than 20 years but after it moved to become independent the two churches became locked in a dispute over who had the right to control the synod's assets.

Last December police stormed the synod office, injuring two clergymen, and ejecting the Kingmi church members. The matter eventually went to court where in April the Kingmi synod's entitlement to independence was upheld.

But according to the Reverend Benny Giay, Chair of the Kingmi Church's Bureau of Justice and Peace, police are acting to support the GKII. He says the GKII assaulted eight members of his congregation on Sunday in full view of local police officers.

Giay: Police allowed people who support the Gereja church to beat our people, in front of their eyes. We won the court case. But police they've not been able to uphold, to execute that court decision.

Bainbridge: Last year Indonesia's Defence Minister said the Kingmi church was promoting independence and police in the province accused the church of links to the Free Papua Movement. It's an accusation that church members reject. Matthew Jamieson again.

Jamieson: The police say that, but of course they've been trying to advocate the rights of the people. But the police and the Indonesian military don't seem to differentiate between what's the Free Papua Movement and what are the people.

Bainbridge: And he says the church members have good reason to prefer to be independent of any Jakarta backed church.

Jamieson: The church members and the church themselves have been very active in issues of peace and justice in West Papua and the church. Principally the members of the church live in the Highland areas of Papua... and these are remote island areas where there's been ongoing military operations for the last few years and this is the sort of area where the most genecidal part of Indonesia's occupation of West Papua continues.

Bainbridge: Matthew Jamieson believes the police are probably being directed from Jakarta.

Jamieson: It's pretty clearly that it's politically motivated, so you'd have the sense that it comes from Jakarta or at least from the inside the police, high up in the police or high up in the military.

Bainbridge: Pastor Giay says he will meet representatives of the GKII to try to resolve the issue and he is calling for Jakarta to support the right of the Kingmi Church to run their own affairs free of government interference and intimidation.