INDONESIA – Catholic groups and bishop speak out against police harassment of activist priest
Dozens of young people from the Catholic Youth and the Union of Catholic University Students of the Republic of Indonesia organizations in West Papua protested in the provincial capital Manokwari. Protesters marched several kilometers from the State University of Papua to the offices of the West Papua Police demanding that police stop harassing Fr Djonga, an activist priest recently questioned about alleged treason.
“Through the West Papua Police, we urge the Papua Police to stop criminalizing Father John Djonga,” said Thomas Jefferson Baru, head of the Catholic Youth’s West Papua chapter. “Summoning and questioning the priest is a form of criminalization as he was just leading a prayer service,” he added.
Reimondus Asem, secretary of the student union’s Fakfak district chapter, said emotions were stirred among local Catholics following police harassment of their priest. He believes police acted out of ignorance because they have little understanding of the priest’s role in the community and said police should be more aware of the priest’s service “so there will be no misunderstanding.”
Fr Djonga was summoned to the police station in Wamena in Papua province four days after leading a prayer service to inaugurate the office building of the Papuan Customary Council. A banner of the separatist United Liberation Movement for West Papua was displayed and members of a Papuan separatist group were alleged to have participated. However, Fr Djonga refused to be questioned and asked police to contact his superiors at the diocese instead.
After consulting with Franciscan Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar of Jayapura, Fr Djonga answered 55 questions from two police officers during a four-hour interrogation in the presence of his lawyer. Police wanted to know why he took part in the event and asked what he knew about the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.
Papuan police spokesman Patridge Renwarin said Fr Djonga is currently considered a “witness” to a violation of Indonesia’s criminal code pertaining to treason bur would become a “suspect” should further evidence be uncovered that implicates him. Police may call Fr Djonga in again for further questioning.
Fr Djonga maintains that his presence at the ceremony to open a community service building was purely pastoral. He remained unfazed by the police scrutiny. “It has been my work in the region with conflicts like this. I have no fear,” he said. “There’s no way I can just stand still while the Papuan people face injustices and violence.”
Bishop Ladjar has expressed support Fr Djonga stating “He had nothing to do with political matters…. He came to the program to lead the prayer service as requested. The invitation clearly mentioned the council, which is popular in this region. So I didn’t mind if he attended the program.” “I told him to go and to tell the police what he exactly did at the program,” he added. Bishop Ladjar said Fr Djonga, who has long fought for the rights of Papuan people, has the support of the church. “As long as it’s about the fight for the rights and the values of humanity, it is also the fight of the church,” he said.
Father Julianus Bidau Mote, chairman of the diocese’s Commission for Laity, said the church has a duty to attend to the pastoral needs of all people, whatever their political affiliation. “The church is sent to all people disregarding their political interest. Father Djonga should not be dragged into political matters,” he said.
This is not the first time that Fr Djonga has been targeted by police, military and security personnel. In 2012, the police and military personnel claimed that Fr Djonga supported separatists based in the forests, after finding the phone numbers of alleged separatists saved in his cell phone. Four years earlier, a group of soldiers threatened to bury him alive if he continued helping Papuans in Keerom district whose land was grabbed by palm oil companies.