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Indonesia bishops back appeal against hate sermons

After a religiously fraught Jakarta election the government has appealed for religious harmony  

Indonesia bishops back appeal against hate sermons

Muslim protesters take to the streets after Friday prayers in Jakarta on April 28, 2017, to protest against outgoing Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is on trial for blasphemy. (Photo by Goh Chai Hin/AFP)

The Indonesian bishops' conference has backed a government minister's appeal against sermons that promote religious or ethnic intolerance.

Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, issued the appeal on April 28. It contained nine points targeted at religious preachers and the broader public.

Sermons should not "contrast elements of ethnicity, religion or race as they could lead to conflicts," it said.

"They should also not contain insults against the belief or practices of other congregations and should avoid provocations to commit discrimination, intimidation or destruction," the appeal added.

Bishop Yohanes Harun Yuwono of Tanjungkarang, chairman of the bishops' Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs welcomed the appeal and said that sermons should promote harmony.

"As a religious leader, I am embarrassed that the call to deliver a good sermon has had to be conveyed by government officials," he said. "There would be no need for such an appeal if religious leaders understood their tasks better."

The Catholic Church, he said, wants priests to preach noble values of humanity that build true brotherhood.  "Surely, they must also preach diversity and love for all people," he said.

Saifudin said the appeal was in response to complaints of "religious institutions spreading disunity and intolerance" during the recent Jakarta election. "A number of places of worship have been rife with things that could spark conflicts," he added.

Elections for Jakarta's governor were marred by religious and ethnic friction. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, an ethnic-Chinese Christian, lost to his Muslim rival, Anies Baswedan.

Several mosques were accused of spouting anti-Ahok rhetoric before the poll. Furthermore, a series of mass rallies called for the ousting and arrest of Ahok after he was accused of blasphemy.

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Saifudin said that his appeal, was not legally binding. "The government will not go to too far in interfering in houses of worship. The government respects religious autonomy," he said.

Zainud Tauhid Saadi, deputy chairman of the Indonesia Ulema Council, the top Muslim clerical body, supported the appeal. However, without any sanctions to back it up, he was worried that it would not work effectively.

Meanwhile, Hendardi, chairman of rights watchdog the Setara Institute, said the appeal was one way to stop hate speeches. However, the appeal would not have a significant impact if it is not enforced.

"In the context of using mosques to spread religious and ethnic sentiments during the election, the authorities should be ready to take action," he said.

The Jakarta election has become a lesson for us all. We do not want similar situations to recur in future, especially in the 2019 presidential election, Hendardi said.

"The quality of democracy is not merely being rooted in the outcome of an election but in how the electoral process stands and promotes the values of democracy," he said.

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