Excessive intolerance and violence committed by Indonesia's notorious Islamic Defenders Front poses a serious threat to national unity, according to Christian leaders. They said they voiced their concerns during a meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Jan. 18. Since its establishment in August 1998, following Soeharto's fall, the group — estimated at more than 7 million strong — has committed a series of violent, acts targeting Christians, churches, Ahmadiya followers and moderate Muslims, they said. Late last year the Islamist group staged a series of mass rallies in Jakarta to demand the city's Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, be put to death for blasphemy. One rally, on Nov. 4 turned violent when ethnic Chinese businesses were looted. On Jan. 6, members of the group attacked a supporter of the Jakarta governor and last week they allegedly torched the headquarters of the Indonesian Grassroots Community Movement, in Bogor, West Java. The Islamic Defenders Front and the Indonesian Grassroots Community recently clashed in Bandung, West Java, when local police questioned the Islamists' leader, Rizieq Shihab about defamation allegations linked to the state ideology Pancasila —
the five principles upon which the Indonesian Constitution is based and which proclaims peaceful coexistence. Father Benny Susetyo, a senior researcher at Para Syndicate
, said the Islamic Defenders Front continues to commit violence because no tough action is taken against them. "The group is immune to the laws," Father Susetyo told ucanews.com on Jan. 17. "This is dangerous. The group trying to impose supremacy through intolerance will disunite the nation," he said. These concerns were put to Widodo during the Jan. 18 meeting, said Reverend Henriette Lebang, president of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia
. She said the president promised to take tough action against groups that continue to impose their will on others. "The government is preparing measures to punish the groups that stir chaos," Lebang quoted Widodo as saying. Hendardi, chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said the Islamic Defenders Front is out of control and even wants to impose its influence on Indonesian police. He was referring to a Jan.16 protest by about 5,000 Islamic Defenders Front members calling for the dismissal of West Java police chief Anton Charliyan.
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During the rally, the group's leader Muhammad Rizieq Syihab also threatened the police if they failed to investigate Megawati Soekarnoputri, head of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, whom he accused of blasphemy last week. Indonesia's Catholic Student's Association has accused Syihab himself of insulting Christianity on Christmas Day last year. Novel Bamukmin, an Islamic Defenders Front official, denied the group was overstepping the mark. "Those who have said so lack intellectuality," he told ucanews.com. The group protects Indonesian diversity and plurality, he said.