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Seminarians picked up at rally by police in Papua

JARKATA (UCAN): Catholics in the Papua province of Indonesia have denounced what they call repressive measures against them, after police detained six seminarians taking part in a peaceful rally on October 8.

Six Franciscan and Augustinian seminarians had joined other rights advocates at a rally held in the provincial capital of Jayapura.

The rally called on the president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, to investigate the unresolved December 2014 killings of four student protesters.

Armed police arrived to break up the demonstration and manhandled several people away from the scene, including the seminarians.

“They, carrying weapons, got off their truck and seized everything, such as posters that we brought,” Yulianus Freddy Pawika, a Franciscan seminarian, explained. “We were then taken into the truck.”

Pawika said police interrogated the protesters for 90 minutes before releasing them.

“We just wanted to hold a peaceful protest,” Pawika, who is also a member of the Franciscan-run Secretariat of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Papua, explained to the media.

“We are called to defend Papuans who easily become victims of violence and the police brutality,” he pointed out.

Indonesian authorities are frequently accused of using repressive measures in Papua and West Papua provinces, where there has been a long-simmering independence movement among indigenous Papuans, who are predominantly Christian.

When they were arrested, the seminarians had been calling for an investigation into the December 2014 killings. Those students died when protesters rushed a military post in a remote district in Papua.

The protesters had been outraged by a previous incident in which locals had allegedly been assaulted during a Christmas celebration.

Pawika said Catholics in Papua have an obligation to take action under such circumstances.

“The Catholic Church exists in the land of Papua to save human beings,” he said.

“So when human beings are killed, we are obliged to defend. This is our call. We don’t feel comfortable living in the convents if the people we serve are easily killed,”he continued.

Police officials, however, insist the issue of the recent rally was protesting over has been settled.

“The case is resolved,” Papua’s police chief, an inspector general. Paulus Waterpauw, said in a text message. “The police have delivered an apology. Both parties have understood each other.”

However, for those taking part in the protest, the police action reflects a larger problem.

“It shows that those fighting for human rights have become targets of violence committed by the police,” Peneas Lokbere, the coordinator of the advocacy group, Solidarity for the Victims of Human Rights Violations in Papua, which organised the rally, said.

Father Neles Tebay, who coordinates the Papuan Peace Network advocacy group, also questioned the police action. 

“Every peaceful protest is faced with a military approach,” he said. “How can it be?”

In September, Bishop John Philip Saklil of Timika decried military and police aggression in Papua. He highlighted five specific acts of violence, including an August 28 case in which two soldiers were accused of firing on a graduation party at a church, killing two people.


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