One death was too many.
A 15-year-old died from gunshot wounds while at least 11 others were injured, mostly teenagers, when police opened fire into a crowd in Karubaga, Tolikara regency in Papua, as they were reportedly protesting against Muslims conducting the Idul Fitri prayers on July 17. At least 60 families lost their homes and one mosque was razed, as well as 58 kiosks, while more than 20 other buildings were vandalized. This single incident showed us that beyond the proud traditions of Idul Fitri, “the day of victory” following the Ramadhan fasting month, social relations are still too fragile.
The supposedly joyous day ended in deep insecurity in an entire area.Even after National Police Chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti’s visit to Karubaga, the reason security forces ended the protest with violence remains unclear, while issues between the Muslim and Christian communities could apparently be resolved through dialogue. Badrodin blames the violence on “miscommunication”, saying that among those under investigation are the local priest of the Indonesian Church of the Bible (GIDI) congregation Nayus Wenda and his secretary Marten Jingga and that police will hunt the “provocateurs.”
The GIDI leaders have acknowledged issuing a letter on July 11 to the Muslim community, requesting that the led prayers be held indoors without a loudspeaker, because an international seminar of church youth was to be held nearby. A protest ensued when the Muslims still held the mass prayers outdoors using loudspeakers, as is the widespread practice to anticipate limited space during Ied prayers. Badrodin has said that dialogue involving the police and GIDI leaders led to an agreement to change the letter, but the corrected letter had not been delivered, he said. For those outside Papua it is not easy to imagine areas far from the provincial capital of Jayapura; yet certainly the ratio of police to civilians across the vast nation is too low — including in the multicultural Papuan towns and regencies where violence has been traced to many factors beyond religion. In addition, the morale and discipline of the police varies across the force, likewise among the military members boosting security in several areas.
Nevertheless poor anticipation of trouble remains the glaring fact in this case when police are responsible for domestic security, especially as the GIDI letter was issued a week before Idul Fitri — regardless of who will be named suspects in the fatal incident. On his Facebook account President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he “severely condemns” the violence in Tolikara and said he had ordered his security and intelligence chiefs to immediately take necessary action for peace in Papua. At least those necessary actions would need to include institutionalizing preventive measures across the country, such as involving religious and community leaders and the police, to regularly meet and discuss any potential issue of dispute. “Provocateurs” have it easy when on a daily basis “harmony” remains superficial — as reflected in reports of a few church burnings in Central Java following the Tolikara incident.