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Indonesian Christians voice religious freedom concerns

National rights commission report says number of violation complaints is on the rise

Indonesian Christians voice religious freedom concerns

Imdadun Rahmat (centre), the National Commission on Human Rights’ special rapporteur on religious freedom, speaks at the launch of the Annual Report on Religious Freedom on Jan 10. With him is Jayadi Damanik (right), coordinator of the commission’s Freedom of Religion and Belief Desk. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari)

 

Christians are concerned about rising intolerance in Indonesia, with a significant increase in the number of religious freedom complaints as recently reported by the National Commission on Human Rights.

The main perpetrators of this trend, amid growing signs of Muslim radicalization were government authorities but religious groups have also played a part.

According to the 59-page report, the commission received 97 complaints about religious freedom violations in 2016, up from 87 in 2015.

Cases of prevention from the construction of houses of worship topped the list, followed by cases of prevention from holding religious activities. Other cases included religious discrimination. Many cases came from West Java, Jakarta and North Sulawesi provinces.

"This is an issue which has not been resolved yet," Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, secretary of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace's national council, told ucanews.com.

He claimed that intolerance in the country has been increasing for a decade.

"Now moderate groups tend to be silent, but if they ignore intolerance and let it happen, intolerant actors can take advantage of the situation," he said.

He also acknowledged that an alarming trend of revenge has started to surface in society.

The state must show its power and deal with the issue by acting firm against those who violate religious freedom, he added.

"It is time for us to speak out against intolerance," Father Susetyo asserted.

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He was responding to the human rights commission's 2016 Annual Report on Religious Freedom released on Jan. 10.

One case was banning a Christian prayer service in Bandung, West Java province.

On Dec. 6, the hardline Defenders of Ahlus Sunnah group stopped members of the Reformed Evangelical Church of Indonesia from holding the event, saying prayer services were only allowed in churches, not public buildings.

Another case was the ban on the construction of Baiturahman Mosque in Wamena by the Communion of Churches in Jayawijaya district, in the majority Christian province of Papua.

On Feb. 25 last year, the organization called on the local government to revoke the mosque's building permit.

The commission logged cases of religious freedom violations such as these across the country.

The pattern was similar in the sense that it was minorities being targeted, the commission noted. Many Christians fell victims in Muslim majority western parts of Indonesia such as Aceh, while Muslims bore the brunt of violations in some central and eastern parts of the country where other religions had a heavy presence.

"'Negative solidarity' has contributed to this," according to Imdadun Rahmat, the commission's special rapporteur on religious freedom.

"It's as if people are saying: 'if my brothers-sisters in your region are treated badly, your brothers-sisters in my region will be treated badly too.'"

"We are concerned about it. We need to replace 'negative solidarity' with a positive one," he said.

Jayadi Damanik, coordinator of the commission's Freedom of Religion and Belief Desk, said these concerns were passed on to the Religious Affairs Ministry last year, which along with the Home Affairs Ministry is drafting a religious freedom protection bill.

We recommended that these ministries, while drafting the bill, pay attention to these issues highlighted by the commission, he said.

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