Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church in Bogor, pictured here in 2017, was sealed by local authorities after protests by Muslims. (Photo by Ryan Dagur/ucanews.com)
Violations of religious freedom in predominantly Muslim Indonesia increased markedly in the first six months of this year.
A report issued on Aug. 20 by the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace said there were 109 cases involving discrimination, intolerance, violence and hate speech in 20 provinces, up from 80 cases in the first half of 2017.
Jakarta province had the most cases with 23, followed by West Java and East Java with 19 and 15 cases respectively.
Perpetrators included police personnel, local administrations, educational institutions, individuals and groups including hard-line Islamic ones.
"The increasing intensity of religious politicization and the rise of extremist groups are among the trigger factors," the rights group's director Halili told reporters at the launch of the report in Jakarta.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy director of Setara Institute, said political interests had pushed the state apparatus to ignore violations of religious freedom.
"Some regions had regional elections earlier this year. Now we are preparing for [presidential and legislative] elections next year. Government officials are afraid of losing voters if they take decisive action," he told ucanews.com on Aug. 21.
Government officials, he said, would try hard to maintain support from majority groups including intolerant ones.
"I am pessimistic that there will be significant improvement in the way the government deals with cases of religious freedom violations in near future," he said.
Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, an activist priest, viewed the report as a warning for the government and religious leaders.
"It is important to be vigilant. Leaders of each religion must work hand in hand to maintain national security and mutual respect," he told ucanews.com. "In this political year, the possibility of using religion for political purposes is open wide."
A legally registered Protestant church in Bogor in West Java was sealed off 10 years ago after local Muslims voiced opposition to its presence.
Bona Sigalingging, spokesman for the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church, known locally as GKI Yasmin, is pinning his hopes on President Joko Widodo to resolve the problem of religious intolerance.
"Now that he wants to run for president again in next year's election, he must remember the promise he delivered to bring freedom to all Indonesian citizens regardless of their religions and beliefs," he said.
Presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for April 2019.