Indonesian police hound Catholic human rights priest over ‘treason’

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Father John Djonga leads a prayer service to inaugurate the office building of the Papuan Customary Council in Wamena, Indonesia, on February 15. Police later sought to question the priest on possible treason charges. Image: UCANews

By Benny Mawel in Jayapura and Ryan Dagur in Jakarta

Indonesian police are seeking to question a Catholic priest over possible treason charges for leading a prayer service attended by members of an alleged Papuan separatist group.

Father John Djonga was summoned by police to appear at the station in Wamena on February 19. However, the priest refused to appear, saying that police also needed to contact his superiors at the Jayapura Diocese and that he needed to retain counsel before agreeing to meet with investigators.

Father Djonga led a prayer service on February 15 to inaugurate the office building of the Papuan Customary Council, where a banner of the separatist United Liberation Movement for West Papua was unveiled.

“I came to the programme as a priest on behalf of the Catholic Church. I just led the service,” he said.

“The council fights for the Papuan people so that they can be free from poverty. It also fights against human rights violations and for other social issues. I prayed for this during the service.”

Father Djonga ... asked for a second police letter "for the diocese". Image: ETAN
Father Djonga … asked for a second police letter “for the diocese”. Image: ETAN

Father Djonga, a noted human rights activist in the province, said he told police to send him a second letter in which diocesan officials also were notified “as I serve the diocese”.

He faces up to four months in prison by declining to answer the initial summons.

Diocese response
Father Yulianus Bidau Mote, chairman of the diocese’s Commission for the Laity, said Father Djonga’s presence at the ceremony was as a priest representing the diocese, therefore police needed to contact the diocese before summoning one of its priests for questioning.

“Don’t just send a letter. As an institution, the local police must be able to provide the diocese with notification,” he said.

Police said they wanted to interview Father Djonga as a possible witness to an act of treason; it was unclear if the priest was a suspect himself.

According to Papua police chief Inspector-General Paulus Waterpauw, police had questioned three witnesses so far.

Meanwhile, the Sydney chapter of the Australia West Papua Association (AWPA)  has written to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop concerning the intimidation of West Papuan representatives from the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) and other activists who attended the opening of an office in the town of Wamena in the Papuan Highlands on the February 15.

The Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister, Luhut Pandjaitan has also told the ULMWP to leave the country as it could pose a threat to the country’s territorial integrity.

The Jayawijaya Resort police have questioned a number of activists who attended the opening.  The security forces are trying to tarnish the ULMWP representatives as “separatists”, which raise grave concerns for their security as human rights defenders, and peaceful activists are regularly arrested because of accusations that they are so-called separatists.

Father Djonga faces possible treason charges because he led a prayer service on that day to inaugurate the office building of the Papuan Customary Council, where a banner of the ULMWP was unveiled.

Joe Collins of AWPA  said,  “We are urging the Foreign Minister to raise concerns about the threats by the security forces to representatives of the ULMWP with the Indonesian government,” said Joe Collins of AWPA.

“We also urge the Foreign Minister to encourage the Indonesian government to respond favourably to the request by the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) leaders to allow a PIF fact-finding mission to investigate the human rights situation in the territory.

Concern for human rights activists in Papua

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1 COMMENT

  1. Pacific Island Forum (PIF) leaders request for a fact-finding mission to investigate the human rights situation in West Papua. I strongly believe Australia and New Zealand governments should support this move to expose to the outside world what is really happening in West Papua. I wonder if “business” is more important than human rights (and the killing of innocent people).

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