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Rights groups condemn intolerance

New Bekasi district head urged to allow Protestants to worship freely

  • ucanews.com reporters, Jakarta and London
  • Indonesia
  • May 22, 2012
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The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has urged the new district head of Bekasi in West Java to solve a long-running standoff between Christians and Muslims as Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) warned religious intolerance was on the rise in Indonesia.

In an open letter yesterday to Neneng Hasanah Yasin, who was installed as district head of Bekasi on May 14, Hong Kong-based AHRC said it was time to allow the Batak Society Christian Church (HKBP) of Philadelphia to worship freely in the predominantly Muslim area.

“We are writing this letter to bring your attention to the issue of freedom of religion in Bekasi, which the previous district head and local authorities failed to take action on in accordance with the law and human rights principles,” said Wong Kai Shing, AHRC’s executive director.

The former administration in Bekasi had stalled on issuing a permit to build a church in Jejalen Raya Village even though the Supreme Court in Jakarta ruled last year that religious services showed be allowed on the site.

Last Thursday, a group of Muslims threw stones and urine at the Protestants as they tried to hold a service to celebrate Ascension Day at their half-built church.

“The AHRC regrets the fact that Bekasi local authorities have not taken adequate measures in accordance with the law and human rights to deal with this matter,” said Wong. “In fact, we regret that Bekasi local government has contributed to the problem by allowing the conflict to continue.”

Muslim leaders in the area say that the Protestant group’s application to build a place of worship in Jejalen Raya Village, which according to Indonesian law requires signed backing from residents, was fraudulent.

Muslims in the area accuse HKBP of Philadelphia of encouraging local residents to sign blank petitions, enlisting the support of the dead and offering 200,000 rupees (US$22) per signature, the Jakarta Globe reported on Saturday.

HKBP of Philadelphia is still waiting for a permit to complete construction of the church despite the Supreme Court’s decision last year which effectively ruled that the petition was valid.

CSW, which saw an earlier confrontation in Bekasi first-hand as part of a 10-day fact-finding mission to Indonesia, said yesterday that the rise of religious intolerance was the direct result of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s failure to stand up to radical Muslims.

Citing numerous cases of worsening standards of religious freedom, including the closure of 17 churches in Aceh province since the election last month of Governor Zaini Abdullah, CSW said human rights groups, media and foreign diplomats had expressed deep concern.

Indonesia faces a hearing of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review this week, a process under which the UN monitors human rights and repression in various countries.

“We urge UN member states to deliver some clear messages to Indonesia that its proud tradition of moderate Islam and pluralism is under threat,” said Andrew Johnston, CSW’s advocacy director.

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