November 17, 2010
Activist Papuan Priests Say They Won’t Be Intimidated
by Nivell Rayda & Markus Junianto Sihaloho
The Rev. Socratez Yoman was supposed to attend the Papua Baptist
Church’s annual congregation meeting in the provincial capital,
Jayapura, in February, but on the eve of the event, two of his
most faithful disciples discouraged him, saying there was a
possible plot on his life.
“I cannot forget that evening,” he told the Jakarta Globe over
the phone from Jayapura. “The churchgoers must have overheard
something. They must have run as fast as they could to my house
because they seemed to be out of breath. Before I could offer
them something to drink they begged me not to go to the meeting”
the next day.
Yoman persuaded the men to sit down and explain to him what they
“There are two factions within my church: those who support my
cause and those who don’t,” he said, adding that his opponents
were planning to stage a demonstration during the meeting.
“My disciples told me that [my opponents] had devised a plot so
that there would be a scuffle in the demonstration, forcing law
enforcers guarding the event to fire warning shots,” he said.
“But, one of the bullets would be meant to kill me.”
The 41-year-old priest has been an active critic of the
government, particularly advocating against the countless cases
of unresolved killings of civilians in the restive provinces of
Papua and West Papua, allegedly perpetrated by members of the
military and police.
“I have had many people come to my home in the middle of the
night seeking refuge, saying they are being hunted by the
military. In return they offer me corn and sago, but I always
refuse,” Yoman said.
He compiled accounts of the human rights abuses he had
encountered over the years in his 2001 book, “The Gateway
Towards a Liberated Papua.” In 2005 he wrote another book,
“Papuans Are Not Separatists,” which fiercely criticized the
military and the government.
The two books propelled Yoman to fame and he was asked to speak
at various national and international human rights forums. He
was also granted access to prominent church leaders and human
rights activists in the United States and Australia.
But his fame appears to have come at the cost of his own safety.
Last week, Allan Nairn, a freelance journalist and co-founder of
the East Timor Advocacy Network, posted a 25-page document on
his blog that he claimed was prepared in 2007 by a clandestine
eight-person unit of the Indonesian Army’s Special Forces
(Kopassus) in Kotaraja, a suburb of the Jayapura.
The document outlined plans for Kopassus to infiltrate churches,
nongovernmental organizations and universities in Kotaraja and
identify the most vocal members in each institution, especially
those critical of the government. It identified 16 people as
“enemies of the state” and Yoman’s name was on top of the list.
The people on the list “are highly critical toward the military
and the government, a behavior that can only be explained by
their lack of belief in Pancasila,” the document says, referring
to the national ideology.
“Measures must be taken to silence them by reducing their
credibility and influence on the people” of Papua.
The document acknowledged there were no armed combatants
operating in Kotaraja at the time and said the unit was
targeting unarmed political activists.
Kopassus spokesman Lt. Col. Zebu declined to comment on the
revelations detailed in the document but pledged to examine the
authenticity of the report.
Threats and Intimidation
Although he declined to name the parties responsible, Yoman
confirmed that he had experienced frequent intimidation.
“In 2006, I was ambushed and taken to a dark alleyway with a gun
pointed at me. They didn’t say anything but I knew it was an
attempt to silence me,” he said.
“Later that year, someone burned my car, which was parked just
outside my church. I have had numerous death threats and
But Yoman said that in 2007, the time the document was said to
have been prepared by Kopassus, the intimidation tactics changed
from physical threats to smear campaigns.
“Someone had been distributing fliers and sending text messages
to people in Jayapura and Nabire in a bid to defame me. They
said I had taken a prostitute from North Sulawesi as a wife;
others said I was responsible for a man’s murder,” he said.
“None of that is true, and thank God the people of Papua didn’t
believe it either.”
The Rev. Benny Giay, from the evangelical Kingmi Church, the
largest in Papua, was also among the 16 people named in the
document leaked by Nairn.
Giay seemed unperturbed, however, saying he had been on many
watch lists before.
“I have had people following me. The military even set up a post
just in front of my theological school. My every move is being
monitored,” he told the Globe.
“I am not a supporter of the government and I am also not a
supporter of the armed separatist movement. But I cannot just
sit there whenever children of the Lord are being abused or
murdered. I have to stand up and fight for their rights and give
voice to the voiceless.”
Giay often communicates with international rights group such as
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, highlighting cases
of injustice in Papua. His 2002 book on the murder of Papuan
leader Theys Hiyo Eluay was banned by the government.
“I have been placed under house arrest and my passport has been
revoked many times despite the fact that there is no criminal
charge against me,” he said.
Protecting National Security
On Thursday, Adm. Agus Suhartono, the recently appointed chief
of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), said the military was
actively carrying out intelligence gathering in Papua, and
defended the move as essential for national security.
But the military leader refused to take responsibility for the
alleged intimidation campaigns and smear tactics against church
leaders and activists. “What we’re doing is maximizing the use
of our intelligence unit for the sake of the military and the
country,” he said.
He added that the operations were always carried out by officers
sent over from the military’s central command, including from
Kopassus and other elite units, but claimed they were only to
guard against threats to the nation’s sovereignty and to back up
police operations in Papua.
Agus said that while he had not yet been able to verify the
document posted by Nairn, he deplored that such a document could
have been leaked.
“I will stress to my subordinates the importance of maintaining
security, to prevent any future leaks of information,” he said.
Intelligence analyst Wawan Purwanto said the military was
justified in carrying out whatever operations it deemed
necessary in Papua, given the continued activities of the
separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM).
“It’s impossible for the country to close its eyes to such a
threat, particularly because it is impossible to distinguish
between armed combatants and political activists,” he said.
Mahfudz Siddiq, chairman of the House of Representatives
Commission I, which oversees defense and foreign affairs, said
he supported the monitoring of civilians despite the fact that
Papua was not technically a military operation zone.
However, he said his commission would seek an explanation from
the military on the matter.
Yoman said that the intimidation would not steer him away from
advocating for civil rights in Papua.
“The threats have done nothing but solidify my belief that I am
doing God’s work.”