Benny Giay: The reality behind West Papua’s ‘land of peace’ facade

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Reverend Dr Benny Giay manhandled by Indonesian police
Indonesian police manhandle Reverend Dr Benny Giay as they remove him from in front of the Papuan People's Representative Council in Jayapura last month. He is heard on a video saying to the security forces: "Listen, listen - if Indonesia is a good and upright country, then obey its constitution". Image: Screenshot from a TikTok video/@picturegami_photo/APR

OPEN LETTER: By Reverend Dr Benny Giay

The notion that Papua is the “Land of Peace” has no substance.

Many feel that this phrase “Papua Tanah Damai” or “Papua Land of Peace” only conceals the reality of Papua. In recognition of that, we would like to convey our observations about the current crisis in Papua.

Besides reading media news reports about today’s planned rally supporting Papua Governor Lukas Enembe, I also read a letter from the People of Indonesia’s Archipelago urging its followers living in Papua to arm themselves, guard the mosque, and give their children a holiday on Monday.

It is important to note that these developments can be viewed from two perspectives — the “criminalised” Enembe became a symbol of resistance by Indigenous Papuans who have been treated like second-class citizens for 59 years; and the Nusantara militias backed by “bigwigs” (as seen in the Racism Protests of 29 August 2019).

Who are the bigwigs? And how do they operate?

Papua was managed by Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) — the Indonesian National Armed Forces — during the Suharto era.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, however, is more concerned with the role of the Indonesian National Police.

‘Criminalising’ Enembe
According to the Papuan Council of Churches, in 2021 the Indonesian National Police took over in Papua and it was led by Tito Karnavians, the Head of the State Intelligence Agency (Budi Gunawan), and Paulus Waterpauw, the Papua Police Chief.

Currently, central government officials are involved in criminalising Enembe, including the Chief of State Intelligence Agency and the anti-corruption agency KPK, as well as Ferdy Sambo, who is the focus of media attention in Jakarta and Papua.

Taking into account the current crisis in Papua, from the perspective of the state actors, and in particular the alarming letter of Nusantara, an armed group that was part of the August 29 anti-racism protest, we ask: Is tomorrow any better?

Perhaps the political party opposing the Democratic Party, is criminalising Governor Enembe (as its chairman) in order to gain votes in the 2024 elections for its party?

A candidate for governor, an ambitious successor looking to depose Enembe prematurely before the 2024 elections? Another instance of the central government interfering in Papua’s affairs.

The victims behind Enembe
Who is behind Enembe? Recently activists (and their relatives) who have been protesting against racism — which has now been branded as “treason” — are the victims of state violence (by officials).

Reverend Dr Benny Giay's open pastoral letter
Reverend Dr Benny Giay’s West Papua Council of Churches open pastoral letter in Bahasa yesterday – a plea for genuine peace. Image: APR

These headaches for the Papuan victims have occurred since early December 2018 in Nduga regency, Intan Jaya, Puncak, Pegunungan Bintang, Maybrat Sorong, and Surua Yahukimo; families and relatives of four mutilated residents of Nduga who were only cremated two days ago; and families and relatives of Mapi residents who were murdered on 30 August 2022 among others.

The victims of these episodes of violence ask: How can KPK criminalise governor Enembe when they failed to arrest [current regent] Romanus Baraka in Merauke, who alleged in the name of Jesus that (Representative) Jan Mandenas and he were involved in corruption?

Why hasn’t the KPK arrested PDIP [Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle] official Komarudin Watubun? Why?

It is common for the parties we mentioned above, particularly the strong ones, to play together. Parties like these enjoy destroying weaker opponents. The actions of Ferdy Sambo in Jakarta illustrate this.

Promote peace, dialogue
Therefore, we invite all members of the congregation and the community here to promote peace, dialogue, and communication.

It is only natural that we demand our dignity and respect. However, do not demand sharp tools and weapons — not with anarchy and savagery. Whenever possible, keep the area free of turmoil and bloodshed.

In Jayapura, Abepura, Sentani and throughout the Land of Papua, we ask security forces to grant the victims a voice today and tomorrow. We want to see the security forces escorting the masses on September 20, 2022, to be more humanist to ensure the safety and well-being of the masses.

Reverend Dr Benny Giay is a West Papuan theologian, social anthropologist, and an activist. He is ordained as a pastor in the Kemah Injil Church (KINGMI) (Gospel Tabernacle Church) and in 2010 assumed leadership of the Kingmi Synod of the Evangelical Christian Church of West Papua. This open letter was written yesterday as an appeal for peace ahead of today’s planned rally in Jayapura and has been translated by Yamin Kogoya, a contributor to Asia Pacific Report.

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