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Politics put fragile freedoms at risk

Persecution of Indonesian minorities can be stopped if politicians have the will to do so

Politics put fragile freedoms at risk
Konradus Epa
Konradus Epa, Jakarta

February 9, 2011

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An escalation in violence, intolerance and discrimination against religious or minority groups, as reported by Indonesian human rights groups at the end of last year, showed just how fragile freedom of worship is in the country. It is no longer a secret that a conspiracy within the political elite has perpetuated violent acts against freedom of faith and religious minorities –not only Christians – in the country. Hard-line groups were not punished for attacking churches or damaging the property of other beliefs such as the Islamic sect Ahmadiyah. Many perpetrators were freed without charge; those who were taken to court had little to fear in what were shows to please the public. Yet the government and security forces were silent, and didn’t impose stricter sanctions against the aggressors. Most violations, however, happened against Christians and Church properties. The Wahid Institute reported 63 acts of violence against religious liberty last year - up from 35 cases in 2009. The institute also reported 133 cases of intolerance and discrimination in 13 regions. The Setara Institute for Freedom and Democracy, meanwhile, reported 216 cases of religious freedom violations or acts of persecution in 2010. The Jakarta Christian Communication Forum, however, recorded 700 cases of closures, attacks or banning of worship places since 1998. All these organizations pointed to a high-level conspiracy between radical groups and political figures, but no report was published on how these violations were processed legally. Democratic society becomes a mockery when the government is supplanted by radical groups using stereotypes of certain religions to impose Islamic laws. Christians were often the target of unfounded accusations of proselytizing. Making such accusations and blowing them out of proportion were the easiest ways of gaining public support and winning over local authorities. As a result, permits for places of worship were withheld and churches were shut down. The issue of conversion is a “weapon” used by extremists to justify their fight against activities – even humanitarian ones – Christians in Indonesia. Catholics assisting non-Christian survivors of the Mount Merapi eruptions in central Java were even accused of proselytizing. The same accusation is also aimed at a Christian church in Bogor, West Java. Although a Jan. 14 court ruling backed its appeal, the church remained sealed. On Jan. 28 church members protested at the Supreme Court in Jakarta to try and persuade the court to order local government and police to reopen the church so they could pray. Sidney Jones, an expert on terrorism in South East Asia, has tried to mitigate the proselytizing issue. In a January 19 article in The Jakarta Post, she reminded people that not all Christian activities are proselytization, in terms of reaching out to congregations beyond one’s own, and not all proselytization is aimed at winning converts from Islam. The problem perhaps does not only lie in the misunderstanding of such terminology, but also in the goodwill of those in power. The government has the power to keep the ball rolling or stop it. If national or local governments have the political will to stop acts of violence against religions, then tolerance and harmony will prevail. It they say “no” to extremists then religions can live side by side. Unfortunately, authorities and politicians have heeded the petitions of extremists because they are afraid of losing votes. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is not blameless either, though he has promised to ensure religious freedom and protect minority groups when he addressed Christians last Christmas. Indonesian minority groups expect the president not to be complacent and enforce the law on hard-liners such as the Islamic Defenders’ Front. Unfortunately, he hasn’t. This has increased the mistrust of religious leaders who have branded government and political elite as “liars.” They say the “promises are lies” because “violence by a certain religion against other religious groups happens again and again.” The government promises solutions, but more problems arise. While emphasizing intensive dialogue and educating people with humanitarian values, religious leaders believe only political will can stop all forms of persecution against religions. Konradus Epa is a journalist who lives in Jakarta Related reports Indonesian president to discuss ‘lies’ issue Indonesian government should stop lying Christians urge police to reopen church IJ13112.1369
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