Presence of militant Islamic leader in Kerom creates tensions

The Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Desk (JPIC) of the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua (GKI-TP) has reported of growing concerns over the presence of prominent radical Islamic leader Jafar Umar Thalib (JUT) in the Papuan regency of Kerom. JUT is the founder and head of  ‘Laskar Jihat’, a militant and radical Islamic organization in Indonesia. Official government letters indicate that JUT has moved away from Yogjakarta (Central Java) and is currently residing in Kerom. The presence of JUT has lead to rejection and anxiety among many people in Kerom and Jayapura. According to JPIC, JUT has begun to build an Islamic boarding school (Pesantren) in Kerom and carried out multiple activities promoting the spreading of Islam in Kerom, Jayapura and various other places in Papua.

First tensions between Christians and Muslims in Kerom were already reported in 2015. On 9 December 2015, followers of JUT were involved in a brawl with Christian youth members in the Koya Barat area of Kerom Regency, because they felt disturbed by Christian worship songs, which were played in public in so-called ‘Pondok Natal’ - small huts which are built all over West Papua before Christmas as part of a local tradition.

In response to the growing tensions, the Regent of Kerom issued three letters on 2 June, 3 July and in September 2017, rejecting the presence of JUT in Kerom regency. The local government considered various of his activities as illegal. JUT did not apply for a building permit (IMB) for the boarding school and does not have an official document from the local Government of Yogjakarta or Kerom confirming the registration of his place of residence. JUT has ignored the regent’s letters and refuses to leave Kerom, arguing that his Indonesian citizenship entitles him to live anywhere within the territory of the unitary state of Indonesia.