Indonesia Ramadan raids spark call to review food ban

Bylaw preventing daytime selling comes under fire after officials snatch vendor's food
Indonesia Ramadan raids spark call to review food ban

Food stalls and restaurants put up fabric covers to hide their customers so as not to disturb those who are fasting during Ramadan, as seen in Jakarta in this June 8 photo. Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, is observing the holy month of Ramadan with intense prayer and dawn-to-dusk fasting. (Photo by AFP)

Catholic priests in Indonesia have joined growing calls for the revocation of a bylaw imposed by local authorities that place a blanket ban on vendors selling food in daylight hours during Ramadan.

"A bylaw should respect other people's faiths. The state offers a place for people from all religious backgrounds, not only for a certain group," Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, secretary of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace's national council told on June 13.

"This bylaw should be reviewed," Father Susetyo said.

The call comes after footage emerged on social media at the weekend of a 53-year-old food seller being reduced to tears when her small eatery in Serang, in Banten province, was raided and her food confiscated for serving customers during the daytime.

The woman, who only goes by the one name Saeni, was among several food sellers raided on June 10.

Authorities said Saeni broke a local bylaw that states that food stalls must be closed 4.30 a.m. until 4 p.m. during Ramadan.

However, footage of Saeni begging officials not to take her food because she was heavily in debt has sparked an outcry and a call for the bylaw to be scrapped, especially since food sellers are allowed to sell during the day during Ramadan in many larger towns.

Father Susetyo praised the public's reaction in the wake of the raids.

An online appeal to help Saeni, and other food sellers affected by the raids, gathered more than US$19,540 by June 12. Among the contributors to the fund was Indonesian President Joko Widodo who also criticized the raids.

"People realize that humanity unites all of us," Father Susetyo said.

Jesuit Father Johannes Haryanto, general secretary of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace, called the raids heavy handed.

"The authorities should not intervene in this case. Some people fast, some people don't. So those who fast should respect those who don't," he said.

"Fasting is personal affair. So if people want to fast, they will not be tempted to eat and drink at food stalls which are open."

Serang's mayor, Tubagus Haerul Jaman, admitted officials went too far in implementing the bylaw.

"Confiscating food from food stalls was a mistake and not in accordance with procedures," quoted him as saying.

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He also promised to review the bylaw.

Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo said a review of this kind of bylaw could be on the cards.

"In a plural society, I think [we] should think first before we make a regulation which can create problems in the region," he told reporters.

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