Graves with crosses desecrated in Indonesia

Police warn against knee-jerk blaming of religious hardliners as it could be a campaign tactic ahead of national elections
Graves with crosses desecrated in Indonesia

A desecrated Christian grave at Giriloyo Cemetery in Magelang town, Central Java province. (Photo courtesy of Magelang police)

Indonesian police have launched an investigation into the desecration of cross grave markers at a public cemetery in Central Java.

At least 11 Christian graves at Giriloyo Cemetery in Magelang town were desecrated near the end of December.

Another seven Christian graves at two public cemeteries in South Magelang sub-district were also desecrated.

The desecration, including the removal of burial crosses, occurred just two weeks after a Muslim group forced the removal of the upper part of a burial cross for a dead Catholic before he could be buried in a public cemetery in Yogyakarta province.

Magelang Police chief Kristanto Yoga Darmawan said police are collecting evidence from the crime scenes including CCTV footage and information from grave guards and local residents.

He said police had asked for assistance from interfaith leaders to call on local people not to prematurely conclude that a "certain religion" was responsible for the crimes because it could be related to political campaigning ahead of national elections in April.

President Joko Widodo, from the ruling Democratic Party of Struggle, is seeking re-election in the Muslim-majority nation, but is being challenged by Prabowo Subianto from the opposition Great Indonesia Movement.

Meanwhile, some 7,968 candidates from more than 20 political parties will be seeking seats in both the 575-seat national assembly and local legislatures. Among them are 151 Catholics.

More than 185 million people will be eligible to vote.

Islamiyah, a cleaning service employee at Giriloyo Cemetery, told the state-run ANTARA News that it was the first time such vandalism had occurred there.

Prior to Christmas, he said, many Christians went on pilgrimages to their relatives' graves and the cross grave markers were still intact.

Ismudiyono, a Muslim representative of the local chapter of the 'Inter-religious Harmony Forum', told that the group will soon hold a meeting with local religious leaders to discuss the incidents and promote tolerance.

Reverend Palti Panjaitan, chairman of the human rights group Solidarity of Victims of Violations of Freedom of Religion and Beliefs said if the perpetrators' motive was religious, it reflected societal intolerance.

"A case like this is a form of provocation that exacerbates divisions in society," he said, adding that the government should continue to educate people about the importance of respecting religious diversity.

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