Concerns are growing over at least 50 cases of religious freedom violations against Christians in Indonesia last year, as not only extremists but ordinary Muslims were responsible for many of the acts of intolerance and violence, according to a recent study.
"Cases of intolerance against Christians remained high in the
country" in 2012, Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the
Jakarta-based group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, told
Morning Star News.
According to a story by Morning Star News, Christians were targeted
in at least 50 of 264 cases of religious freedom violations in 2012,
more than any other group, Naipospos added.
Setara recorded 54 such cases against Christians in 2011, following
the especially volatile year of 2010, when there were 75 cases against
Setara's Report on Freedom of Religion and Belief in 2012 notes that
the 264 cases of religious freedom violations overall last year include
371 "acts" against religious minorities, as one case often involves more
than one attack or action.
Morning Star News said the Setara report came days before more than
200 local Muslims threw rotten eggs at Christians going to a worship
service in Bekasi on Christmas Eve.
A photographer from Agence France-Presse witnessed furious men and
headscarf-clad women blocking the road and launching the eggs at members
of the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church (locally known as
the HKBP) on the outskirts of Jakarta.
Morning Star News reported that the attack was the latest in a series
of clashes between members of the HKBP and Muslim residents who oppose
the church's existence. The Bekasi administration closed the church's
building in 2009, and it remains sealed in defiance of a Supreme Court
order in favor of the church.
"During the attack, Tambun Police Chief Comdr. Andri Ananta and North
Tambun District head Suhartono did nothing," the Rev. Palti Panjaitan,
pastor of the church, complained at a press conference in Jakarta on
At the same time, Morning Star News reported, members of the Yasmin
Indonesian Christian Church (locally known as the GKI) in the Jakarta
suburb of Bogor - another church sealed by authorities (in April 2010) -
celebrated Christmas in the open air. The church, which has faced many
violent attacks, remains locked despite a ruling of the apex court
ordering local authorities to allow members to use the building.
The two churches held a joint-morning service on Christmas Day in
front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta as part of a protest.
Morning Star News said a sign of growing intolerance could be seen
days before Christmas when the Indonesia Ulema Council (the MUI, a
confederation that represents all Muslim groups to the government)
issued a fatwa forbidding all Muslims from extending Christmas greetings
to Christians. It also asked President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to skip Christmas celebrations.
Suffering at least 50 cases, Christians were the main target of
religious freedom violations and violence in the Sunni Muslim-majority
country. The Shia minority witnessed 34 incidents against their members,
and Ahmadiyyas - a Muslim minority sect seen as heretical by Sunni
Muslims - were the targets in 31 cases.
Morning Star News said that while Indonesia's Muslim majority
population of 232.5 million is believed to be largely tolerant, a trend
is emerging of ordinary local Muslims leading violent attacks, not just
outside extremist groups, the report found.
Many violent attacks were carried out with impunity by local Sunni
Muslims, indicating that "the virus of intolerance" has trickled down
from extremists to ordinary residents, Naipospos said.
On top of the list of non-state actors were "citizens," responsible
for 76 cases of religious freedom violations - as opposed to the
extremist group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which was behind 24
cases, and the MUI, which was responsible for 25 cases, according to the
Morning Star News said state officials were involved in 154 of the
264 cases of religious freedom violations. The report says police
officials were involved in 40 cases, followed by district administration
officials at 28 cases.
Morning Star News reported that the 264 cases occurred in 28 of the
country's 33 provinces, the most volatile region being Java Island,
where more than 2.5 million Christians live. Most of the Christians in
Java are migrants from other areas who have come in search of jobs over
West Java Province, where Bogor and Bekasi are located, witnessed the
highest number of religious rights violations this year, with 76 cases.
Next came East Java with 42 cases. West Java is home to about 520,000
Christians, East Java 1.28 million.
Morning Star News said Aceh Province, with the highest proportion of
Muslims in Indonesia and partially governed by sharia law, recorded 36
cases in 2012. In Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, authorities closed
down nine churches earlier in the year under the pretext that they were
not legal. The churches, which remain officially closed, had been
functioning for years.
Central Java Province, where about 650,000 Christians live, witnessed
30 cases in 2012. South Sulawesi, which has 803,000 Christians,
recorded 17 cases.
Morning Star News said the report does not give an optimistic outlook
for the year ahead.
Regional elections are due in 2013, and
preparations are underway for national elections in 2014. The
politically active months ahead could result in a higher incidence of
intolerance and violence, as parties are expected to use religion to woo
Muslim voters and support of influential extremist groups, Naipospos
Morning Star News said religious intolerance overall in Indonesia has
been rising for the past five years. The Setara Institute recorded 135
cases of intolerance in 2007, 265 cases in 2008, 200 in 2009, 216 in
2010, 244 in 2011, and 264 incidents last year.
Theophilus Bela, president of the Jakarta Christian Communication
Forum, told Morning Star News that his group recorded 75 incidents of
intolerance and violence against Christians - actual and planned -
across the country last year. The planned incidents were those his group
prevented with the help of local authorities, he noted.
"Still, the actual number of incidents could be higher, as not all cases come to one group's notice," Bela said.