Only a week after four indigenous West Papuans were murdered and mutilated in Mimika by Indonesian Special Forces, the head of Mimika Regency, Eltinus Omaleng, has been arrested by the Indonesian state on bogus corruption charges. 

Nothing could illustrate more clearly the emptiness of Indonesia’s claims to uphold justice in West Papua. The real reasons for this arrest are obviously political – Indonesia is trying to divert attention from four brutal, racist murders. Omaleng’s real crime is that he tried to help his community by building them a church in Timika. Though he stands accused of corruption, according to the figures of Indonesia’s own Supreme Audit Agency (BPK), no relevant state losses were found. By punishing Omaleng, while funding the construction of many mosques across West Papua,Indonesia have demonstrated the profound Papuaphobia that lies at the heart of their colonial policy. Systemic racism towards Papuans’ Black skin, Papuan culture, Papuan beliefs, colours everything Indonesia does.

The church is central to West Papuan identity. It is where we come together, pray, heal ourselves. By denying us our places of worship, Indonesia is trying to crush our religion, and with it, our spirit. Regent Omaleng’s arrest has sparked messages of solidarity from the West Papuan Council of Churches.

It is significant that Omaleng intended to construct a building for the KINGMI church, of which he is a member. We have seen before how Indonesia treats KINGMI: this was the church of Pastor Yeremia Zanambani, who was tortured and then slaughtered by an Indonesian soldier in 2020. Many KINGMI churches have been burned or occupied since 2019, and  their congregants have been forced to flee into the bush, becoming refugees in their own land. In that time, Indonesia has continued to steal West Papua’s natural wealth through colonial developments like the Trans-Papua Highway and the Wabu Block gold mine. This is the real corruption. 

We must also not forget the many Regency heads, and other Papuan leaders working in Indonesian institutions, who have passed away in suspicious circumstances over the last three years. Since 2020, sixteen Papuan leaders have died in hospitals or hotels, often without official explanation, many of them after speaking out against aspects of Indonesia’s colonial rule. It is likely that many of them were poisoned. Another victim of this persecution is Ham Pagawak, head of Mamberamo district – after speaking out against Indonesia’s new imperial provincial division, Pagawak was threatened with arrest and forced to flee to Vanuatu. Whether they are freedom fighters living in the bush, or politicians working with Indonesia in parliament, any Papuan that tries to advance the condition of their people is targeted.

Eltinus Omaleng is just the latest victim of Indonesia’s racist occupation. He must immediately be released, and all charges against him dropped.

Benny Wenda
Interim President
ULMWP Provisional Government

West Papua Council of Churches delivering their statement on Omaleng’s arrest

Sixteen Papuan leaders dead in mysterious circumstances