Home Info Exploitation of Religion in West Papua Separatist Movement

Exploitation of Religion in West Papua Separatist Movement


A few religious leaders in Papua are also well-known for spreading and supporting separatist, secessionist, or even rebellish ideas among churches and local civil communities. Names like Socratez Sofyan Yoman are often heard and quoted in local, national, even international media.

Pacific Conference of Churches

There is a trend of petty separatism in the Pacific region, where the West Papuan issue which has been Indonesian domestic affair for the last 73 years is now becoming a topic for Pacific Conference of Churches to discuss about. Among international online media readers, their words are starting to get spotlight as the latest update on West Papuan situation, while the fact is, it is not.

Socratez Yoman, along with other names from Anglican churches of Pacific countries (ACNZAP) managed to push a rumour about a collective “support for referendum”. Although the rumour has existed for many years and never made it to international forum, it diverts the world’s attention from far more important problems.

Without us noticing, the news about priests from Pacific islands countries is starting to overshadow the fact that we are still looking for 50 fugitives who committed Nduga Massacre (2/12). We cannot deny that the continuation of Nduga Massacre case should be the priority for Indonesian government and the global audience. Shifting the focus towards a criminal group’s demand is beyond media politics; it is simply evil.

Non-Violent Principles

The original teaching of all religions revolve around nonviolence principles, and most religious leaders would say the same. New Zealand’s Archbishop Philip Richardson said Papuans had experienced state violence for more than 50 years and their concerns should be addressed. Nonetheless, he clearly said that violence was never an answer. When it comes to violent narratives, the churches are almost always innocent, yet certain parties would still make use of every situation.

“The history of change throughout the world, I mean the greatest and most effective change has been brought about through non-violent means,” said Philip. However, this does not necessarily stop an amount of misguided people from using strategic positions in religious communities to the advantage of their political interests. The armed separatist groups frequently use the channel of religious influencers who support their cause, and Socratez Yoman is a prime example.

Once every blue moon, a religious leader will go over the top and and dwell in denial regarding violent actions committed by the armed separatist criminal groups. In 2017, Reverend Socratez Yoman earned a bunch of negative reaction from Papuan online media readers.

Back then in November 2017, the armed separatist group held 1,300 local people of Kimbely and Banti village in captive, as an act to push Freeport mining company away from Papua. The armed separatists killed 1 civilian, 2 soldiers, and left 7 others wounded. Yoman tried to downplay the severity of the crime, by saying that the siege was merely a ‘drama’ made up by Indonesian government and media. The Papuan public were severely angered by the comment,

The involvement of religious influence plays crucial role in the West Papuan separatist movement. It allows both the armed terrorist group and their political organizations to execute three fundamental steps of recruitment, propaganda-indoctrination, and identity building.


There are two segments of Papuan separatist supporters: the adult and the youth. The youth is the one more exposed to the tales and stories about their predecessors, their ancestors, their grandparents who fought bravely against the colonizers.

According to reverend and anthropologist Benny Giay, the Papuan youth are touched by the tragic past of the generations before them, who went through the difficult times in the late 1960s. The older generations fell victims for militaristic government, which was part of Indonesian past as a nation.

A religious figure like Socratez Yoman helped the proliferation of these stories, packaged in burning sermons filled with sublime racial hatred for other tribes of Indonesia, especially those who are not native Papuans.

Indoctrination: The Concept of Obedience

Indoctrination is a big part of instilling militaristic mindset in the back of humans’ brain. The goal of this method is to eliminate the natural humanist instinct, which normally will alert our body whenever we, or other individuals of our own species, is in danger. During indoctrination, the prospective members of armed separatist group is going to lose empathy towards their people and environment, and in extreme cases, even their own families.

On December 12th 2018, we have seen how Papuan armed separatists had the guts to murder their own Papuan fellows, in unarmed situation, using rifles.

The usage of religious phrases and figures as a source of authority inflicts a sense of fear among communities who identify themselves as members of that respective religion, including its institutions. For native Papuans who have been members of certain churches for nearly their whole lifetime, obeying the figures of religious communities is a simple day-to-day habit which feels taboo to deny.

Segregation and Identity Building

Religious influencers create a unique form of authority, because the way they work is by forming a thin distinction between pious people who are socially accepted, and apply this dichotomy on top of political discourse. As complicated as it might seems, it is really quite simple in practice.

For example, Rev. Socratez Yoman repeatedly used the phrase “Malay colonizers”, and “May God open their eyes”. In a short article titled “Dari Mana Pendeta Socratez Yoman?” (which translates into ‘Where Did Rev. Socratez Yoman Come From?’) , the usage of those two phrases are combined with a personal and highly relatable narrative regarding “God” and “His enlightenment”. Unconsciously, readers are being fed with a conclusion that “fighting Malay colonizers = fighting for God and His enlightenment”.

It is a hard truth to admit, that our society is susceptible from such stories.

Faux Heroism

According to Indonesian Coordinating Minister of Security, Wiranto, the armed criminal separatists are suffering from a kind of power syndrome. He explained that, in the hands of amateur militias, assault rifles and heavy armaments will create a false “powerful feeling” and “heroism”.

The moment armed separatist group started to supply sympathizing men with guns, they were creating a delusion that members of the criminal group are knights in shining armors. An illusion that they are fighting for something precious, and that someday they will be rewarded as actual heroes. The willingness to die as martyrs, for all the wrong cause and reason, is not only dangerous. It is also wasting the potentials of the Papuan generation.

https://www.radionz .co.nz/international/pacific-news/378624/pacific-anglican-leaders-call-for-west-papua-action , 2018

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