08/08/2008, 00.00
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Thousands of Christians take to the street against application of Islamic law

by Mathias Hariyadi
In the Indonesian Papua, Christians are opposing the possible introduction of sharia. The provincial government is reassuring them, but many doubts remain.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - More than 3,500 Christians have protested in Jayapura, the capital of Indonesian Papua, against the introduction of sharia, Islamic law, in the region.

The demonstration of a few days ago was organized by the Indonesian Christian Communication Forum, and took place to the cry of "Papua Pancasila, yes. Papua Syariat Islam, no!". Pancasila, literally "the five basic pillars", is the official ideology of the state founded on modern democratic principles like freedom of expression and of religion. Recently in Jakarta there has been talk of introducing sharia in Indonesia. The Christians of the province object that Papua enjoys special legal autonomy, which would prevent the introduction of such law without local approval.

The demonstrators went to the offices of the provincial government, where Tedjo Suprato (who is standing in for the governor Barnabas Suebu, a Catholic, in Mexico on official business) reassured them that Islamic law will not be adopted in Papua.

45 Christian leaders of Jayapura took part in the demonstration, criticizing the implementation of the special legislative autonomy granted to the region seven years ago, which - as pastor Richard Paay said - "has not brought any significant improvement to our lives", or eliminated the serious poverty of the indigenous peoples. One placard read: Regional Autonomy Law: A blessing or a disaster?

"For seven years", Paay continued, "local people who mostly live in poverty have heard about trillions of rupiah (to be distributed to them), but many Papuans still die due to poor sanitation. Where does the money go?".

Indonesian Papua is rich in natural resources and raw materials, like oil and gold. The central government is discussing the possibility of transferring people from highly populated areas, like the island of Java, to Papua. But these are majority Islamic areas, and it is feared that the arrival of this population could alter the current religious situation of the island.

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