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Marchers demand end to intolerance

Government urged to curb attacks on houses of worship

Marchers demand end to intolerance
Religious leaders march in Jakarta

Hundreds of people including religious leaders from various denominations and faiths took to the streets yesterday to peacefully protest against restrictions on freedom to worship.

The rally, organized by the Religious Leaders Forum in Greater Jakarta, followed the recent closure and demolition of places of worship by local authorities and officials from the government’s Public Order Agency.

Demonstrators walked 1.5 kms from Gelora Bung Karno stadium to the People’s Consultative Assembly building, where forum representatives met with speaker Taufiq Kiemas.

Reverend Erwin Marbun, coordinator for the Forum, urged the government to protect religious freedom in a speech to the protesters.

“It all happens because of the government’s will, which is supported by intolerant groups,” he said, referring to the recent closure of and demolition of a number of worship sites.

“If it continues to happen, children of this nation might kill each other,” he warned.

Officials in Bekasi district in West Java on April 4 closed down the Al-Misbah mosque belonging to the Ahmadiyah sect – a branch of Islam considered heretical by orthodox Muslims - in Jatibening.

On March 21, authorities in Setu, also in Bekasi district, demolished the worship place of the Batak Protestant Church (HKBP) over allegations that the church did not have a legal permit for construction.

Reverend Torang Parulian Simanjuntak, a pastor at HKBP, said the action violated the country’s national charter ensuring religious freedom.

“It indicates that the state ideology of Pancasila [or Five Principles], which guarantees unity, has been soiled. The 1945 constitution has been disgraced too.”

Rev Simanjuntak added that such actions against religious places are evidence of the government’s support for groups promoting religious intolerance.

Father Guido Suprapto, a representative of the Religious Leaders Forum and executive secretary of the Commission for the Laity within the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference (KWI), said during a meeting with Kiemas that the government must honor its own constitution and principles on religious freedom.

“KWI called on [the assembly] to take strict action against the government and to immediately consolidate this nation’s identity according to Pancasila and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika [Unity In Diversity]," Fr Suprapto said after the meeting.

Assembly speaker Kiemas agreed that further dialogue on the issue was needed.

“I will tell President [Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] or the House of Representatives’ speaker, the Supreme Court’s chief justice and the Judicial Commission’s chairman about the issue when I meet them this month or in future months,” he said.

Related reports:

Church demolition stirs defiance

Twelve Christian worship places closed in West Java

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