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Attacks on religious freedom in Indonesia increasing

Government under fire for 'letting intolerance happen'

Attacks on religious freedom in Indonesia increasing

Indonesian police stand guard during a security check at the Jakarta Cathedral in Jakarta, Dec. 24, 2016. (Photo: IANS)



There has been a sharp rise in the number of religious freedom violations in Indonesia over the last two years, according to a human rights group.

In a report released on Jan. 29, the Jakarta-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace recorded 208 violations in 2016, up from 196 in the previous year and 134 in 2014, an average of 17 violations each month.

West Java province, with 43 million inhabitants, tops the provincial list because of discriminative bylaws and the prevalence of intolerant and radical groups, the report said.

The main perpetrators included police, local governments, and hard-line groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front targeting minority groups, including Christians.

Christians comprise 6.3 percent or about 23 million of the country's 238 million population, according to a 2010 census. Protestants number 16.5 million and Catholics 6.9 million.

"Religious tolerance has not improved in the past two years since President Joko Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla took office [October 2014]," the group's deputy chief Bonar Tigor Naipospos said.

The central government, he said, has spent too much energy on economic and infrastructural growth, ignoring increasing intolerance in society.

He said the central government only seemed to become aware of the problem when the Islamic Defenders Front staged mass rallies in Jakarta last year demanding the city's Christian Governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, be put to death for blasphemy.

Earlier this month, members of the hard-line group allegedly attacked a supporter of the governor and torched the headquarters of the Indonesian Grassroots Community Movement in Bogor, West Java.

Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, secretary of the bishops' commission for justice and peace, accused the government of letting it happen.

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"This nation always talks about democracy and respecting the right to religious freedom. In fact, it [the government] lets human rights violations continue to rise," Father Siswantoko told ucanews.com.

The priest urged the central government to monitor and evaluate whether the policies of local governments are intolerant or not.

Religious minorities have criticized local governments over refusals to grant permits to build places of worship.

"If needed, they must punish local authorities for letting religious intolerance to happen," Father Siswantoko said.

A similar stance must also be taken by the central government against intolerant and radical groups, he added.

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