Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Bishop slams ‘intolerant policies’ in Indonesia’s Maluku

Bishop Seno Inno Ngutra of Amboina Diocese is seen with leaders of other faiths

A Catholic bishop has accused a top district official in Indonesia’s Maluku province of not supporting religious groups' effort to promote tolerance in the region that has witnessed deadly sectarian conflicts.

Bishop Seno Inno Ngutra of Amboina Diocese said he, on behalf of religious leaders in the province, will sign off a “no-confidence motion” against Brigadier General Andi Chandra As'aduddin, the acting head of West Seram district.

He was addressing a press conference at his office on Sept. 13,

Bishop Ngurta alleged that the military officer "has tarnished inter-religious tolerance with his inhumane policies and actions."

"We will write a letter of rejection against him to the Minister of Home Affairs" and send its copies to the President and the Minister of State Secretary, the prelate said.

Since taking office in May, As'aduddin has carried out a number of policies that have sparked uproar from religious leaders, he alleged.

Bishop Ngurta, 51, said ever since he became bishop of Amboina in April he has made efforts to work with other religions in Maluku as well as the government.

The region witnessed deadly sectarian conflicts between Christians and Muslims from 1999-2002.

The violence killed more than 6,000 people and displaced tens of thousands, forcing the government to deploy the military to restore order.

The bishop particularly criticized As'aduddin for his questioning the legitimacy of the Catholic Ecclesiastical Choir Festival (Pesparani).

The church-sponsored event is set to be held in the district later in September which will also involve members of other faiths, to prepare for events at the provincial and national levels.

Bishop Ngutra said the event was also part of a national program under the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

He also alleged that the district head was only willing to provide 200,000,000 rupiah (US$ 13,406) financial support for the event after public pressure.

Bishop Ngutra said he and other religious leaders also questioned As'aduddin's recent move to forcibly recall cars that the government donated to religious leaders, citing auditing purposes.

"We are not dependent on these cars, but what the previous district head did was to provide the vehicles to help religious leaders to continue what the government desires them to do--build peace and tolerance in the community," he said.

He said that religious leaders were disappointed when they tried to meet As'aduddin to discuss these issues recently. He did not meet them, even though they had waited for hours.

Following the allegations on Sept. 13, As'aduddin spoke to the press and denied any wrongdoing.

He said that policies taken by his administration are “open to evaluation.”

Religious leaders should "be able to run their activities without the help of the local government. Assistance from the local government is to facilitate or relieve, not to fully cover all the needs" of programs such as the Christian choir festival, he said.

He also denies accusations of disrespecting religious tolerance, claiming that he stands “above all religious groups.”

Responding to the allegations of not meeting religious leaders he said this was "exaggerated" and stated that he cannot accept every guest, nor could his subordinates.

He also said that the withdrawal of the cars that had been used by religious leaders was to control the administration of assets and if they wanted to borrow and use them, they could submit an application.

As'aduddin is the only government official in Maluku, who is also an active soldier.

His appointment in May drew protests from civil society groups, because of his military background.

Government officials defended his appointment, saying that a figure with an intelligence gathering background was needed to lead the district because of its potential for conflict over boundaries in some villages.

Syarif Papaliya, an activist from the Maluku branch of the Muhammadiyah Student Association, an affiliate of Muhammadiyah, the second largest moderate Islamic organization, said that “in principle, they chose to judge the district head's move proportionally.”

"For example, regarding controlling government assets, such as cars, I think that is a good effort. Why? Many government assets have been misused so far," he said.

He said that the government should have a proper dialogue with religious leaders "so that there are no misunderstandings and accusations that can disrupt harmonious relations."

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