Many questions remain after a riot last month in Indonesia.
Conflicting stories between the church and law enforcement have formed after chaos in the country’s Papua province — but an Indonesian church revealed that the country’s military burned Bibles.
An angry mob, including churchgoers at the local Church of Zion, protested in Papua’s provincial capital city Jayapura and threw rocks at security forces.
The military’s burning of Bibles at a local military barracks sparked the riot during May in the Southeast Asian country, according to reports.
“Five people were injured after hundreds staged an angry protest in Jayapura's Abepura district,” Radio New Zealand reported. “Soldiers managing a local facility had burnt a number of materials as part of what police say was a routine clean-up.”
Local law enforcement at the time said soldiers burned garbage and alleged they did not burn a Bible; however, police circulated a photo of a burned book on theology with the text reading, “This is not a Bible.”
A local church, the Evangelical Christian Church, dispelled this notion with photos of burned New Testament Bibles and hard evidence collected from a priest and local churchgoer.
“The incident is indicative of the tensions that simmer in Indonesia's two easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua, which are culturally and ethnically distinct from the rest of the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago, the world's most populous Muslim nation,” the Associated Press reported.
This week, a military spokesman confirmed that soldiers torched Bibles. It was an accident, the spokesman claimed.
Citizens on the island province of Papua are mainly Christian, although Indonesia as a whole has a majority Muslim population.
“Three protesters suffered gunshot wounds when police and troops dispersed the crowd,” the AP reported. “The police statement said a water cannon was used but the church's report said two armored vehicles from the military base had fired at the crowd.”
The police chief was wounded by protesters and a police aide was hospitalized.
Exactly what took place, and why, is still unclear. The situation is under investigation, according to the military.
“Some bibles and theological books that had been brought from Java for distribution to Christians in Papua were inadvertently mixed in with rubbish that was cleared out of the base's mess,” according to a military spokesman, the AP noted.
“In recent decades there have been many known cases of radical Muslims attacking churches and Christians, thereby instilling fear into Indonesia's Christian community,” said an Indonesia Investments report on Christianity in the country. “These incidents mainly occur on the island of Java where Christians form the minority.”
Giving the benefit of the doubt, if the Bible-burning truly was an accident and did in fact happen — it’s a shame if officials tried to cover it up.
“No Bibles were burned, either deliberately or accidentally,” said a statement in May from Wanton Saragih (the minister counsellor at the Indonesian Embassy in Wellington, Zealand), according to Radio New Zealand. The words may or may not have been said in that exact form.