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Protesters slam religious freedom award for president

Yudhoyono has done little to stem intolerance, they say

Protesters slam religious freedom award for president
Protesters march towards the US embassy in Jakarta on Monday
Ryan Dagur, Jakarta

May 6, 2013

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Religious minority groups staged a peaceful rally on Monday in front of the US embassy in Jakarta to protest against the presentation of the World Statesman Award from a US-based foundation to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

About 30 representatives of Protestant churches as well as Ahmadiyah and Shia sects criticized the planned presentation of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation’s award, scheduled for May 30, because of the prevalence of religious intolerance in the country.

The award of the foundation, which was founded in 1965 by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, recognizes contributions to religious freedom and human rights and the promotion of peace, tolerance and ethnic conflict resolution.

“With so many difficulties faced by religious minority groups in Indonesia and the government’s minor role in respecting religious freedom, I’m very disappointed with the planned presentation of the award to the president,” Reverend Palti Panjaitan from the Batak Society Christian Church (HKBP) Philadelphia in Bekasi district, West Java, said in a speech during the rally.

HKBP Philadelphia was denied permission to build a church in the district after submitting an application in 2007.

In December 2009, district authorities also banned the congregation from worshipping at the proposed site, but in July last year the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, saying they were eligible for a permit.

The permit has still to be issued.

“The president is an intolerant leader. Why does the United States think that he is a figure who fights for tolerance? This is weird,” Reverend Palti said.

Meanwhile, Haris Azhar from the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras) told that the planned presentation of the award to the president is a mistake.

“How can a president who keeps silent when violence and killings of members of minority groups occurs be given such an award?” he asked.

Besides delivering speeches, the representatives also handed over letters of rejection.

In a letter from the Shia sect’s Organization of Ahlulbayt for Social Support of Education, Emilia Az J. Rakhmat asserted that the president did not deserve the award, considering the increasing religious and ethnic conflicts.

“The Shia community has been the target of religious violence for years, and the president has not taken any measures to suppress, let alone to prevent it,” she said.

The US embassy asked protesters to submit the letters of protest to Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs so that they could be forwarded to the embassy.

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