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Yudhoyono accused of passing buck on religious intolerance

Indonesian president has responsibility too, say faith leaders

<p>President Yudhoyono and his wife at the national Christmas celebration (picture: AFP Photo/Adek Berry)</p>

President Yudhoyono and his wife at the national Christmas celebration (picture: AFP Photo/Adek Berry)

  • Ryan Dagur, Jakarta
  • Indonesia
  • December 30, 2013
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Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was on Monday accused of shirking his responsibilities after calling on the country's religious leaders to be examples of tolerance and harmony.

“Religious leaders must set a tolerance example. [It is hoped that] they keep guiding and educating - not provoking - their followers,” he said in a speech during the country's national Christmas celebration on Friday at the Jakarta Convention Center.

“Don’t just rely on the state in addressing issues of tolerance and harmony. Principally, the state will intervene only if there’s no other way out and if prevention efforts fail,” he said.

The state will support religious leaders in strengthening tolerance and harmony, he vowed.

“Security maintenance and legal enforcement are the last solutions if persuasive approaches can’t be done,” he said.

However, the Rev Palti Panjaitan from the Batak Society Christian Church Philadelphia in Bekasi district, West Java, said such remarks indicated that president was trying to find a scapegoat for religious tensions.

“As if he wants to say: ‘It’s not my job.’ In fact, as the state’s leader, he too has an obligation,” he told ucanews.com on Monday.

His church submitted an application to construct a new building in 2007. In December 2009 district authorities banned the congregation from worshipping at the site.

Even though the Supreme Court ruled in their favor last July, the church has still not received permission to start building.

Boni Hargens, a politician from the state-run University of Indonesia, said the president’s remarks were baseless.

“Strengthening and guaranteeing tolerance is the state’s task. Religious leaders only offer help,” he said.

Hargens said Yudhoyono should show Indonesian people his political commitment in guaranteeing tolerance and harmony.

“Enforce the law in dealing with intolerant groups,” he said.

The Institute for Democracy and Peace (Setara) recorded 214 religious freedom violatiion cases from January until December this year. These cases, including intolerance and discrimination, affected mostly followers of the Islamic reformist movement Ahmadiyah and Christians.

Setara Deputy Director Bonar Tigor Naipospos said religious leaders could help strengthen tolerance and harmony, but it was ultimately the state's job to enforce laws and protect its people.

“If violence and hatred are spread out by a certain group, the state must act,” he told ucanews.com.

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