Bible translator killed in clashes between Indonesia's military, separatists

Pastor Yeremia Zanambani
Pastor Yeremia Zanambani | Facebook/Gospel Tabernacle Church of Indonesia

A Christian pastor and Bible translator in Indonesia's easternmost region of Papua was shot and killed in clashes between separatists and the military.

Yeremia Zanambani, the pastor of the Gospel Tabernacle Church of Indonesia (GKII) known for translating the Bible into Papua's Moni dialect, was found dead outside his home in the village of Hitadipa in Intan Jaya district on Sept. 19, UCA News reports

The death of the 67-year-old pastor, who also ran a local high school, was confirmed by GKII church officials in Jakarta.

“Reverend Zanambani was shot dead on Saturday afternoon on his way to his pigpen. This is a deep sadness. We are deeply saddened by the loss of a religious leader who served the Moni community so well,” GKII said in a statement on Sept. 20.

The local military commander also confirmed Zanambani’s death, claiming he been killed by a separatist group.

“The ferocity of these Papuan terrorists continues in Hitadipa. Reverend Yeremia Zanambani was a victim of the group,” said Col. Gusti Nyoman Suriastawa, head of Regional Command III.

However, another pastor at the church, Timotius Miagoni, told Reuters that Zanambani's wife had found her husband bleeding in the pigsty and told Miagoni he had been shot by military personnel.

Additionally, Father John Djonga, an activist priest from Jayapura Diocese in Papua, told UCA News the shooting happened amid a military operation, two days after two soldiers were killed by separatists.

Sebby Sambom, spokesman of the Free Papua Movement separatist group, corroborated the account, claiming the pastor was murdered by Indonesian security forces amid escalating tension between military personnel and separatists groups.

“The Indonesian military should not make such ridiculous and groundless claims. The military, police and government should take responsibility for this murder,” he said.

According to GKII, at least seven congregations in the area fled to the forest following the pastor’s killing and urged authorities to protect civilians. 

The Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) has urged Indonesia's president, Joko Widodo, to order a thorough investigation into the Zanambani’s shooting and hold those responsible for his death accountable. 

“I strongly condemn the shooting that killed pastor Yeremia Zanambani,” said PGI Chairman Gomar Gultom, according to The Jakarta Post

"Papua has long been caught in bloodstained [conflict], and all the violent and military approaches don't solve any problem in Papua. Instead, they create an endless circle of violence,” he added. 

He further urged the president to fulfill his promises of utilizing a cultural approach instead of a violent one to address the unrest in Papua. “The Papuan people and the churches in Indonesia will demand that the president stick to his word.” 

Tensions between the Indonesian military and separatists have been high in Papua — the poorest province in the country — since the passing of a U.N.-backed 1969 referendum called the Act of Free Choice, which formalized Indonesia’s control over the former Dutch colony.

Over 80% of the population in Papua identifies as Christian, contrasting the predominantly Muslim Indonesia.

Persecution watchdog International Christian Concern notes that many Papuans don’t see themselves as Indonesians and are frustrated by the peripheral treatment of the Indonesian government. 

Open Doors USA ranks Indonesia among the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. 

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