Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta
Updated: January 20, 2017 04:44 AM GMT
Indonesian anti-riot police assist each other during a roll call in Jakarta, on Dec. 22, 2016, as part of efforts to secure Christmas and New Year celebrations. Indonesian police foiled plans by a so-called Islamic state-linked group for a Christmas-time suicide bombing after killing three suspected militants on Dec. 21 and discovering a cache of bombs, authorities said. (Photo by AFP)
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.
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.
….as we enter the last months of 2021, we are asking readers like you to help us keep UCA News free.
For the last 40 years, UCA News has remained the most trusted and independent Catholic news and information service from Asia. Every week, we publish nearly 100 news reports, feature stories, commentaries, podcasts and video broadcasts that are exclusive and in-depth, and developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes.
Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to – South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters who cover 23 countries in south, southeast, and east Asia. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don’t have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.