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Indonesia

Indonesian religious group cries foul over tomb closure

Followers of the Sunda Wiwitan faith accuse authorities of bowing to intolerant Muslims

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Indonesian religious group cries foul over tomb closure

The tomb of the late Prince Djatikusumah and Queen Emalia Wigarningsih, revered leaders of Sunda Wiwitan, an indigenous Indonesian religion. (Photo supplied)

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Followers of Sunda Wiwitan, an indigenous faith group in Indonesia’s West Java province, have accused authorities of bowing to pressure from hardline Muslim groups who forced the closure of one of their most sacred sites.

The Kuningan district Public Order Agency last week sealed off the tomb of two Sunda Wiwitan leaders — Prince Djatikusumah and Queen Emalia Wigarningsih, who died last year and were buried at the site in the village of Cisantana.

Group members were also prohibited from praying at the tomb.

"The entire site was closed,” Okky Satrio Djati, a Sunda Wiwitan spokesman, told UCA News on July 25.

Sunda Wiwitan has about 100,000 followers across West Java and Banten provinces who venerate the power of nature and the spirit of their ancestors.

Djati said it was unbelievable that authorities bowed to pressure from conservative groups who had protested and ordered the tomb to be removed.

The tomb has giant stones indicating Sunda Wiwitan’s closeness to nature and was meant to be a shrine for followers to pray at.

Local authorities saw it as a monument that required a government permit. Under Indonesian law, religious sites require such a permit.

Djati said the community was in the process of getting one but intolerant groups saw this as an opportunity to pressure the government to not grant a permit and tear the shrine down.

He said they filed a request for a building permit on July 1 but were rejected on July 14.

Cecep Murad, from the Indonesian Ulema Council, said Muslims rejected the site because they were worried it would become a  place of idolatry.

"The tomb is different from other [ordinary] tombs. Hence, it is a concern of Muslims," he said.

Kuningan district chief Acep Purnama denied Sunda Wiwitan followers were being discriminated against. He insisted that the tomb was a monument without a government permit.

“Sealing it is the best way [to prevent bad things happening],” Purnama said without explaining why the request for a permit was rejected.

Rights groups condemned the site’s closure.

Jesuit Father Johannes Haryanto, general secretary of the Indonesian Conference on Religious and Peace, accused the district chief of seeking political backing from Muslim hardliners.

“The closure of this site is regrettable and we ask the people in Kuningan district to join hands and create harmony with one another,” he said.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said the Sunda Wiwitan community and other religious minorities face difficulty in burying their members in public cemeteries “because they are from another faith and are considered heretics.”

He also said that a lack of a political will by many local governments has had a dire effect on religious freedom.

“They have become the main barrier to religious freedom because they cave in to public pressure too easily,” he told UCA News.

Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said the government must respect diversity and the rights of religious minorities.

“We urge the local government to reopen the site because it discriminates against the community and violates the law,” Hamid said.

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