Third pastor killed in Papua this century, says church fellowship

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Rev Yeremia Zanambani
Rev Yeremia Zanambani ... alleged to have been shot dead by the Indonesian military in Hitadiap village on September 19. Image: Suara Papua

By Benny Mawel and Budi Sutrisno in Jayapura and Jakarta

The killing of Pastor Yeremia Zanambani in Intan Jaya regency, Papua, last weekend – allegedly carried out by personnel from the Indonesian military (TNI) – is the third case targeting a churchman in Papua since 2004, says a church fellowship.

The TNI has denied involvement in all three killings, accusing pro-independence rebels 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.

The president of the Papuan Baptist Churches Fellowship, Rev Socratez Sofyan Yoman, has alleged that prior to Yeremia, TNI members had shot dead two other pastors – Geyimin Nirigi and Elisa Tabuni – in separate incidents.

Geyimin was killed in Mapenduma district, Nduga regency, on December 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,” Rev Socratez said.

Socratez said a TNI spokesman at that time had denied the allegation, saying Geyimin was alive and well.

Investigation results
However, he added, the results of an investigation by the Papuan Human Integrity Justice and Peace Foundation showed that Geyimin had died, allegedly at the hands of TNI personnel.

Meanwhile, Elisa Tabuni was reportedly handcuffed and shot dead by members of the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) in Tingginambut district, Puncak Jaya regency, on August 16, 2004, Rev Socratez said.

He said the TNI had also denied this allegation, claiming that Tabuni had died at the hands of Goliath Tabuni, a pro-independence leader based in the district.

Rev Socratez strongly condemned the recent killing of Pastor Zanambani, 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 reports in Papua have reported that Pastor Zanambani was shot dead on his way to his pig pen on Saturday, at the same time as a military operation was taking place.

Rev 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.

Rev Zanambani 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.

Moni tribe investigating
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.

Rev 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,” Hapsara said.

Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid urged the government to investigate Rev Zanambani’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.

Armed group
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 Defence Command III in Papua Colonel Gusti Nyoman Suriastawa also said Rev Zanambani 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 said.

Cendrawasih Regional Military Command spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Reza Patria said on Tuesday that his team was still investigating the incident and declined to elaborate further.

Wenda condemns Papua ‘killing zone’
At the United Nations, United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) chair Benny Wenda issued a statement condemning the killing of Pastor Zanambani.

“We [have] received another example of what ‘Special Autonomy’ means for us. Pastor Yeremia Zanambani, a loved religious leader in the regency of Intan Jaya, was murdered in cold-blood by colonial Indonesian troops,” he said.

“We know that the history of imperialism – in West Papua as elsewhere – is a history written in blood. We will not accept another 20 years ‘Special Autonomy’ bloodshed.

“Under the eyes of the world, as the UN General Assembly meets, another pastor has been killed by Indonesia.

The UN may be celebrating 75 years of its existence, but for us it has been 57 years of being ignored by the UN.

“Indonesia has ignored and disregarded the words and will of the Pacific Islands Forum and 79 countries in the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States, and continued to use West Papua as a closed killing zone.”

Benny Mawel and Budi Sutrisno were reporting for The Jakarta Post.

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