Father John Jonga: The unstoppable rights advocate

Nethy Dharma Somba , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Mon, 12/21/2009 9:25 AM |

JP/J. Adiguna

The struggle for human rights is universal, unrestricted and equal, whatever the person’s tribe, religion or race.

That’s been the philosophy of Father John Jonga who won the Yap Thiam Hien award for 2009.

The award was handed over at an event in the Flores Room of Hotel Borobudur in Jakarta, on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009.

Originally from Flores, Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT), Jonga has been fighting for human rights in Papua, specifically in the Keerom region on the border of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

From 2000, Jonga has been working as a pastor in the region of Keerom. During that time, he has often been called to witness the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka), the Free Papua Organization, fighting human rights violations. Papuan residents living on the border encounter.

Jonga knows of many human rights violations in that area, including persecution, arbitrary arrest, intimidation and violence against women. The situation there is not safe and he says the military are responsible.

Experiencing these incidents has made Father John Jonga, born in Flores on Nov. 4 1958, work for their rights. He has even told the military to withdraw from Keerom, as it has been making residents feel uneasy.

This statement was delivered directly to the Governor of Papua, Barnabas Suebu, during his visit to Keerom in 2007.

Jonga’s has received threats for his efforts from the military, including threats he would be buried alive.

‘‘After I voiced my concerns, I was terrorized by a military member. The person told me I would be buried alive, 700-meters deep,” he said. “I was scared, but I believe that our life is in the hands of God, and I am alive and passionate to serve the small community in Keerom.”

The Fellowship of Papuan Churches in the region of Keerom reported the human rights violations in the territory of Keerom, Papua, to its regent, Celsius Watae, in 2007.

Many insults have been hurled at Pastor John Jonga in his attempt to fight for human rights, such as “Father OPM” and “provocateur”.

“I have been called many names, and there have been efforts to pit public opinion against me,’’ explained the son of Arnoldus Lete and Yuliana Malon.

Human rights violations around border areas have been recorded in reports, especially because people in that region have been labelled as part of the OPM.

Residents have been asked about OPM activities and matters relating to the OPM, making residents weary.

“Although the residents are farmers who just go about their daily business, they’re always being asked questions.

“If they do not answer, they are labelled separatists, or even shot,’’ Jonga said.

‘‘If things were going well there shouldn’t be any acts of violence or any other human rights violations.

“I know the community in Papua well, and what has happened in people’s lives. They’re the blood in my body,” he said.

In addition to fighting for human rights, he is also a well-known vocal advocate for the rights of Papuans, such as their rights to accessing forest and land, earning a livelihood, getting access to education and health care, and other aspects of life.

Pastor Jonga is worried about the spread of HIV/Aids, which is more common in the border region. He is also concerned about the loss of land and income Papuans living near the forests encounter, now that some forests are privately owned.

Jonga’s cause has born sweet fruit. He was given the 2009 Yap Thiam

Hien award, which is dedicated to an institution or an individual fighting for human rights.

Father John Jonga is the second person from Papua who has received the award. The first was Yosepha Alomang, the director of Yahamak (the Human Rights and Anti-Violence Association campaign) who received the Yap Thiam Hien award in 1999.

Jonga admires Yosepha Alomang and said he learned a lot about life from her, especially a poem she wrote in 2002 titled Prayer of the Naked Child.

He has since matched her achievements that he so greatly admired.

‘‘I will read the poem when I receive the award,’’ he said.

Jonga arrived in Jayapura in 1986. At that time, he was a catechist, placed in Wamena. The young Jonga saw many men wearing koteka (penis sheaths).

“When I arrived at Wamena many Papuans were wearing koteka and I didn’t understand what they were.

“A man came approached me and said he would help carry my luggage, but I refused.

“But he returned again and offered to carry my stuff. I said I wanted to go to the rectory in Wamena. He said he knew it.

“On the way I asked the man wearing a koteka why he wanted to carry my goods. ‘So I can go to heaven’, said the man.

“This response surprised me, he knew heaven,’’ recalled the priest who spent his childhood and school years in his village home in Manggarai, Flores.

In 1999, Jonga went to college at the Fajar Timur High School and when he finished, was ordained as a priest on October 4, 2001.

His achievement will be dedicated to all the people of Papua and be a source of inspiration to enable them to stay motivated in their fight for human rights in Papua and in Indonesia.

“I will continue to work for this cause until my last drop of blood,’’ stressed the Pastor.

His calling has been to help small communities whose lives are powerless in dealing with authorities.

As their pastor, Jonga has a duty to reassure his people. After witnessing members of his church suffer violence, he helps protect people from violent acts that lead to human rights violations.

“I was surprised and pleased when I was told I would receive the award, but I still respect all parties who appreciate the struggle of humanity.”

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