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Churchgoers Riot After Indonesian Military Burns Bibles

REUTERS/Oka Barta Daud (INDONESIA) - RTR20N70

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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Riots broke out in a predominantly Protestant province of Indonesia last month after the country’s military burned bibles, according to a major local church.

Evangelical Christian Church reported that the police account of a riot that happened on May 24 was not truthful, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

Police stated the citizens of Papua province rioted after the military burned garbage and then released photos of the burned material, including a picture of a burned theology book. The police said they printed a note on the released photo which reads “This is not the bible,” according to the AP.

The church’s report states that a priest and a man from his congregation photographed bibles they found burned at a local military base and collected several to keep as evidence.

Since those reports, Teguh Pudji Rahardjo, military spokesman, confirmed that the military did in fact burn bibles, but claims it was an accident. According to Rhardjo, the bibles and other theological books were meant to be distributed to Christians in the province but somehow got mixed in with the garbage.

Reports of the burned bibles spread on social media, angering locals, some of whom were members of the local Church of Zion, who then gathered outside of the military base to demand that the soldiers be handed over to them for retribution.

According to the church, the two men who found the bibles tried to no avail to calm the crowd and convince them to disperse. The crowd instead threw rocks and blocked the streets with burning tires.

The AP reports that protesters injured the town’s chief of police, inflicting him with bruises, and stabbed his aide. The aide was hospitalized for his stab wounds and also sustained injuries to his jaw and nose.

Evangelical Christian Church also reported that two armored vehicles from the military base fired on the crowd, also contradicting the police account of the event which states that police and soldiers used only a water cannon to disperse the crowd. Three members of the crowd suffered gunshot wounds.

According to Rhardjo the incident is being investigated.

“Like all Indonesians, we as members of the Indonesian Military are religious people, and we respect all religions,” Rhardjo said.

The population of Papua province of the Indonesian island of Jakarta is 58 percent Protestant. According to the Pew Research Center, 88 percent of Indonesia’s entire population is Muslim, making Papua and the nearby province of West Papua religiously unique.

The riot is only the latest outburst of tensions that, according to the AP, have been present in Papua and West Papua since they were annexed by Indonesia the 1960s.

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