By Peter Arndt (Catholic Social Justice Series Book 82)
I was moved to tears while reading this document about the challenges facing the people of West Papua, in particular their claim to freedom and independence.
In 2016, with ten fellow Christians from Australia, Peter Arndt, Executive Officer of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Commission, visited West Papua to hear first hand the stories of the local people. They were especially wanting to hear from survivors of the Indonesia massacre of 6th July 1998. This occurred at a peaceful prayer focussed demonstration for independence. These people had been under the governance of the Dutch, the Japanese and now the Indonesia military. The leader of the demonstrators, Filep Karma, at the time a prominent civil servant had insisted that his followers should only use bibles and hymns as their weapons. The vast majority of Papuans are Christians. They were attacked mercilessly by Indonesia soldiers.
Peter graphically describes this incident, it’s brutality, the many deaths and the torturing. This makes for hard reading as the incidents are dealt with so thoroughly. Peter was approached by Laurens who had been a teenager at the time of the massacre.
He gives evidence for Indonesia’s direct implication in some of the worst forms of human brutality and the incredible journey of Laurens and his Biak people.
Peter and his colleagues then experienced first hand the heavy hand of the Indonesia overlords and it seems they are not the first visitors to be interrogated and followed everywhere.
Peter Arndt’s clear and concise first hand account of the horrific suppression of justice and the state of fear in which the Papuans live is a moving tale.
Arndt sees the experience of Laurens paralleling those of Jesus and draws on the Scriptures to graphically make this clear. Laurens treatment and continuing struggle has moved Peter as it has moved me, to consider the way all Christians and people of good will must identify with the struggle of the Biak people.
Once read, the story cannot be dismissed or forgotten. The reader becomes part of the struggle for justice and freedom of the oppressed and abused people everywhere…
Peter and friends travelled to villages to hear more stories of brutality and killings and later Peter returned to West Papua several times gathering more evidence. The gathering of evidence was challenged at every step by police and corrupt officials and he was placed in fearful situations.
The author reflects on the way Papuans have been treated historically by colonial authorities and missionaries. It is a mixed history of blessings and mistakes. Their subsequent treatment is now part of the problem for a people ill prepared to fight for their rights. He also comments on the way in which Christians can express sympathy but cannot take the next step and offer real support.
The historical context for the current crisis helps to explain but not excuse the stark and shocking events that are now happening. The way in which the Indonesians are gradually reducing the influence of the Papuans culture, commerce, and faith practices is forcing them into minority status in their own land.
Within the Pacific Islands nations there is growing support for and solidarity with the people of West Papua. Drawing on the Scriptures Peter calls on the justice loving people of the world to recognize the plight of these people and for Christians who have been taught about restoration through love, the human values of freedom, dignity and hope to now come to the aid of a people begging for help. He also describes how a personal involvement in such a cause can bring to individuals a deep personally liberating outcome of living in the peace and love of God.
But there is more to this story….As First Peoples of West Papua they form a part of all those peoples who face injustice and deprivation. Advocating for them is advocation for all First Peoples.
I strongly recommend this paper to your reading and personal refection on how to be a part of the solution. If you are not greatly moved I will be surprised.
Paul Inglis 20th August 2019
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