President Yudhoyono accepts world statesman award

Prize given amid criticism over failure to address discrimination
President Yudhoyono accepts world statesman award

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said there was still much work to be done to end violence in the name of religion (photo supplied by the Presidential Palace)

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono received the World Statesman Award from a US-based foundation in New York on Thursday despite fierce criticism from activists and religious leaders over his record on protecting minority religious groups.

Calling the award from the Appeal for Conscience Foundation a collective prize for Indonesia, Yudhoyono promised to continue promoting humanity and the public interest.

“Pockets of intolerance persist. Communal conflicts occasionally flare up. Religious sensitivities sometimes give rise to disputes with groups taking matters into their own hands. Radicalism still exists on the fringe,” he said in his acceptance speech.

Acknowledging that Indonesia had “more work to do,” the president promised that his government would not tolerate violence in the name of religion, including the desecration of religious sites.

“We will always protect our minorities and ensure that no-one suffers from discrimination. We will make sure that those who violate the rights of others will face the arms of justice,” he added.

Yudhoyono, a one-time army general previously responsible for separating the army from politics as Indonesia emerged from decades of military rule, has come under fire over his government’s failure to protect minority religions including Christians and the Ahmadiyah. Mainstream Muslims consider the sect to be heretical prompting an escalation in targeted attacks against its members in recent years.

“Christians and followers of Ahmadiyah and Shia sects must be grieving deeply over this award,” said Choirul Anam of the Jakarta-based Human Rights Working Group.

Local authorities in some areas of the country have been accused of violating Indonesian law for denying churches building permission, including the Batak Society Christian Church (HKBP) Philadelphia in Bekasi district, West Java.

The church submitted an application to construct a new building in 2007 but in December, 2009, district authorities also banned congregations from worshipping at the site. Even though the Supreme Court ruled in their favor in July, the church has still not received permission to start building.

Reverend Palti Panjaitan of HKBP Philadelphia said that Thursday’s award meant it was time for the president to stop talking and start taking action to end discrimination in Indonesia.

“The President must treat everyone the same way,” he said. 

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