A major church in Papua province has accused the Indonesian military of burning Bibles prior to the riot that broke out in the provincial capital city of Jayapura last month.
According to Radio New Zealand, the riot occurred in Jayapura in late May when people heard that Bibles were being burnt at a local military barracks. Soldiers managing a local facility have reportedly burnt a number of materials as part of a routine clean-up. The police stated at the time that the soldiers circulated photos of the burned materials that included a book on theology with an annotated text saying "this is not the Bible."
Minister Counsellor at the Indonesian Embassy in Wellington, Wanton Saragih, insisted that no Bibles were burned during the routine clean-up, either deliberately or accidentally.
Saragih cited the Chairman of the Papuan Synod of the Indonesian Christian Church, Reverend Dani Mita, who stated that the riots were sparked by the video and photographs that were spread by irresponsible people.
The church leader noted that the only book that was burnt accidentally was a text on the history of religion titled "Origin of Religions" written by Thomas Hwang.
However, the Evangelical Christian Church in Papua has released a report saying a priest and another man from a local congregation have taken photos of burnt New Testament Bibles, and they have taken several Bibles away as evidence.
Military spokesman Teguh Pudji Rhardjo confirmed that Bibles were indeed burned, but he said that it was an accident. He claimed that Bibles and theological books were supposed to be distributed to the Christians in the province, but they got mixed in with the garbage.
When the reports of Bible burning spread on social media, a crowd gathered outside the military base to demand that the soldiers be handed over to them for punishment.
The Associated Press reported that the chief of police was bruised in the attack, while his aide suffered stab wounds, as well as an injured nose and jaw. Three protesters suffered gunshot wounds during the dispersal of the crowds.
The church noted that the two men who found the Bibles tried to calm the crowd and convince them to disperse, but the protesters started throwing rocks and blocked the streets with burning tires.
Rhardjo said that an investigation is still being conducted regarding the incident. "Like all Indonesians, we as members of the Indonesian Military are religious people, and we respect all religions," he stated.