U.S. Department of State
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
November 17, 2010
The constitution provides for freedom of religion. The government generally respected religious freedom for the six officially recognized religions; however, ongoing restrictions, particularly on religions not sanctioned by the government and sects of the recognized religions considered deviant, were exceptions.
The government prosecuted some individuals responsible for religiously tinged violence in Sulawesi and the Malukus. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the government prevented several vigilante actions. However, it failed to prevent abuse and discrimination against religious groups by other private actors and at times failed to punish perpetrators of violence. Some hard-line Muslim groups opposed to religious pluralism engaged in violent activity against free religious expression, and various other activities deemed contradictory to their view of Islamic values. Members of minority religious groups continued to experience some official discrimination in the form of administrative difficulties, often in the context of civil registration of marriages and births, and/or the issuance of identity cards.
There were a number of reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Some hard-line Muslim groups used violence and intimidation to close at least 28 churches. Some of the churches remained closed. Only a few perpetrators of these and past abuses have been prosecuted.
The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with government and civil society leaders as part of its overall policy to promote human rights, including sponsorship of the Indonesia-U.S. Interfaith Dialogue in Jakarta. The embassy promotes religious freedom and tolerance through exchanges and civil society development programs.
Section I. Religious Demography
An archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, the country has an area of approximately 700,000 square miles and a population of 238 million.
According to a 2000 census report, 88 percent of the population is Muslim, 6 percent Protestant, 3 percent Roman Catholic, and 2 percent Hindu. Other religions (Buddhist, followers of traditional indigenous religions, Jewish, and other Christian denominations) are less than 1 percent of the population. Some Christians, Hindus, and members of other minority religious groups say that the census undercounted non-Muslims. The government conducted a national census in 2010 that will provide more accurate figures.
Most Muslims in the country are Sunni. The two largest Muslim social organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, claimed 40 million and 30 million Sunni followers, respectively. There are also an estimated one million to three million Shi’a Muslims.
Many smaller Muslim organizations exist, including approximately 400,000 persons who subscribe to the Ahmadiyya Qadiyani interpretation of Islam. A smaller group, known as Ahmadiyya Lahore, is also present. Other small Islamic minorities include al-Qiyadah al-Islamiya, Darul Arqam, Jamaah Salamulla (Salamulla Congregation), and members of the Indonesian Islamic Propagation Institute.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, accords “all persons the right to worship according to their own religion or belief,” and states that “the nation is based upon belief in one supreme God.” The first tenet of the country’s national ideology, Pancasila, similarly declares belief in one God. The government does not allow for not believing in God. Government employees must swear allegiance to the nation and to the Pancasila ideology. Other laws and policies placed restrictions on certain types of religious activity, particularly among unrecognized religious groups and “deviant” sects of recognized religious groups. The central government did not invoke its constitutional authority to review or revoke local laws that violated freedom of religion.
Aceh remained the only province authorized by the central government to implement Islamic law (Shari’a), and non-Muslims in the province remained exempt from Shari’a. Some local governments outside of Aceh also have laws with elements of Shari’a that abrogate certain rights of women and religious minorities. Aceh adopted a Shari’a based penal code imposing physical punishment for violations.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs extends official status to six religious groups: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Unrecognized groups may register with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism as social organizations. Although these groups have the right to establish a house of worship, obtain identity cards, and register marriages and births, they sometimes face administrative difficulties in doing so. In some cases these challenges make it more difficult for individuals to find jobs or enroll children in school. Legally, identity card applications are now acceptable when the “religion” section is left blank; however, members of some groups reported that they sometimes faced obstacles.
In 2008 the government issued a joint ministerial decree freezing certain activities of the Ahmadiyya Qadiyani (Ahmadiyya). Specifically, it bans proselytizing by the Ahmadiyya but also prohibits vigilantism against the group. Violation of the proselytizing ban carries a maximum five-year prison sentence on charges of blasphemy. The decree does not, however, prohibit the Ahmadiyya from worshipping or continuing to practice within its own community. Hardline groups and a government-appointed body, the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem), supported an outright ban.
On April 19, 2010, the Constitutional Court upheld the 1965 Blasphemy Law, holding that the government had power to impose limitations on religious freedoms based upon security considerations. Human rights groups, including the Wahid Institute, led the effort to overturn the law. Many Muslims and members of other religions supported maintaining the law.
The government established the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) in 1975, and it has power to issue fatwas (religious decrees), although MUI opinions are not legally binding. Nevertheless, the MUI’s edicts or fatwas were considered moral guiding principles for Muslims, and the government took them into consideration when making decisions or drafting legislation.
Numerous regional branches of the MUI have released fatwas on the issue of “deviance” from mainstream Islam, including recommendations to ban the Ahmadiyya. These have been influential in enabling continued official and social discrimination against the Ahmadiyya and other minority religious groups.……
The government requires officially recognized religious groups to comply with Ministry of Religious Affairs and other ministerial directives, such as the Revised Joint Ministerial Decree on the Construction of Houses of Worship (2006), Overseas Aid to Religious Institutions in Indonesia (1978), and Guidelines for the Propagation of Religion (1978). Indigenous/traditional beliefs must register their organization with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture at the district or provincial level, which provides some legal status for the belief system.
The 2006 Revised Joint Ministerial Decree on the Construction of Houses of Worship requires religious groups that want to build a house of worship to obtain the signatures of at least 90 members of the group and 60 persons of other religious groups in the community stating that they support the construction. The decree also requires approval from the local religious affairs office, the Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB). While the FKUB at times is a deterrent to construction, it has in some areas helped communities to foster positive communication between religious groups. For example, the FKUB in Solo has been actively involved in helping a church, GBIS Generasi Pilihan at Pucangsawit, Solo, to get their construction permit after several years of effort. FKUB approached the surrounding neighborhood of this church and were able to gain permission to build a church in their neighborhood.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
The government generally respected religious freedom; however, a government decree restricting the ability of the Ahmadiyya to practice freely was a significant exception. Certain other laws, policies, and official actions also restricted religious freedom and the government sometimes failed to prevent discrimination by individuals against and abuse of others based on their religious belief.
Local governments issued bans against Ahmadiyya, al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah, and other minority Islamic sects during the reporting period and monitored them closely, frequently at the request of local MUI chapters.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
NGOs that monitor religious freedom violations in the country recorded over 200 incidents during the reporting period. The highest number of reported incidents occurred in West Java and Jakarta. During the reporting period, the government continued explicitly and implicitly to restrict the religious freedom of groups associated with forms of Islam viewed as outside the mainstream.
The government tolerated discrimination and abuse toward the Ahmadiyya by continued failure to reject the 2007 MUI fatwa condemning Islamic groups such as the Ahmadiyya. The government also failed to reject the 2005 MUI fatwa that explicitly banned the Ahmadiyya, as well as related local government bans. Authorities failed to halt or investigate vandalism on a number of Ahmadiyya facilities during the reporting period. Varying reports provided different numbers of mosques attacked or closed.
Some Ahmadiyya followers remained as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Transito Camp in Mataram, Lombok, where they have lived since 2006 after a mob forced them from their homes. Without a home address, most continued to have difficulty obtaining KTPs and, consequently, were sometimes denied free health services from hospitals. The Ahmaddiya IDPs were also not registered as voters for local elections. The IDP families requested government assistance in returning to their homes; however, most continue to fear for their safety if they returned. On March 8, 2010, Lombok government officials told Ahmadiyya representatives that the IDPs remaining in the camp could not return to their village unless they first renounced their Ahmadiyya beliefs.
Camp conditions remained difficult, with cramped living space and limited access to water. Although children have attended local schools since 2006, they have faced harassment. In July 2009 Ahmadiyya IDPs requested compensation for their assets from local administration, but the claim was still pending at the end of the reporting period. During the reporting period, despite the absence of a clear decision on their status and official permission to return home, 12 Ahmadiyya families have returned to their home village in Ketapang. However, they continue to move between Transito Camp and Ketapang Village, spending a few days or weeks at each, because at times they feared for their safety in Ketapang. However, the remaining 19 families in the the camp continued to be worried for their safety in Ketapang. Ahmadiyya IDPs no longer received a rice subsidy, water, or electricity supplied by the local government. Local officials refused to issue an identification card (KTP) for Ahmadiyyah followers due to the lack of a decision on their status. The lack of a KTP also prevented them from receiving health care.
In addition to the Ahmadiyya, blasphemy laws were used against other groups claiming ties to Islam but considered “deviant.”
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
Section III. Societal Attitudes
There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.
Controversy over the Ahmadiyya continued throughout the reporting period. Hardline groups renewed attacks and demanded the government disband the Ahmadiyya. Rallies continued throughout the country both for and against a ban. Civil rights activists, members of the Presidential Advisory Council, and leaders from Muhammadiyah and Nadhlatul Ulama continued to assert that any such ban would be unconstitutional and contrary to the principles of Islam.
In addition to the Ahmadiyya, according to the Indonesian Communion of Churches and the Wahid Institute, local government officials and local communities forced the closing of at least 28 licensed and unlicensed churches during the reporting period. Many of the targeted churches operated in private homes and storefronts, and some churches moved their services to rented spaces in public shopping malls to lessen the potential of threats from hardline groups.
Several houses of worship, religious schools, and homes of Muslim groups regarded as unorthodox were attacked, vandalized, forced to shut, or prevented from being established by militant groups and mobs throughout the country. In several cases police temporarily detained members of “deviant groups” who were victims of attacks, ostensibly to ensure their safety, but did not arrest attackers.
Muslims reported occasional difficulties in establishing mosques in Muslim-minority areas of Papua, North Sulawesi, and elsewhere.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with the government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.
On January 25 to 27, 2010, the Indonesian government hosted the first Indonesia-U.S. Interfaith Dialogue under the title “Building Collaborative Communities: Enhancing Cooperation among People of Different Faiths.” Delegates included religious leaders, scholars, students, and interfaith activists from the country, the United States, and the region. The event encouraged interfaith action in addressing community needs.
The U.S. embassy and the consulates in Surabaya and Medan regularly engaged government officials on specific religious freedom issues. Embassy staff at all levels met frequently with religious leaders, officials of Muslim social organizations, and human rights advocates to clarify U.S. policy in support of religious freedom, discuss religious tolerance, and promote respect for religion. Embassy staff also met with members of minority religious groups, whose houses of worship or training facilities were forcibly closed, to discuss government response to the closures, as well as religious freedom and pluralism generally.
Embassy and consulate outreach to the public emphasized the importance of religious freedom and tolerance in a democratic and diverse society. The embassy and consulates also promoted pluralism and tolerance through exchanges and civil society programs.
During the reporting period, two six-week academic programs under the Study of the U.S. Institute were conducted on religious pluralism. The programs were designed to enhance participants’ appreciation of the principles of religious pluralism in the U.S. through lectures, presentation, panels, and visits to several religious communities. Both programs were hosted by the University of California Santa Barbara and each included one participant from the country. In addition young Muslim leaders travelled to the United States and participated in two State Department-funded International Visitor Leadership Programs on the subject of democracy and multiculturalism.
Five of the embassy’s 11 American Corners are in Islamic universities. In academic year 2009-10, 10 of 32 Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) from the United States were placed in pesantrens for one-year positions. In academic year 2010-11, 14 of 40 ETAs will be placed in pesantrens.
The embassy and consulates reached a broad audience across the country during the reporting period through the production of media programs that provided in-depth coverage of issues, including religious freedom, from a U.S. perspective. These included several television cooperative productions, which broadcast on major free-to-air television stations.
The embassy supported a number of outreach programs during the month of Ramadan, including a number of iftar dinners reaching a broad cross-section of society.
The embassy and consulates also supported campus seminar programs aimed at strengthening supporters of pluralism on Islamic campuses and reinforcing an understanding of religious freedom, tolerance, pluralism, and gender equity. Five American religious scholars visited the country on an exchange program and held public discussions on several campuses in Jakarta, Lombok, and Malang in cooperation with state Islamic universities and public universities.
The embassy and consulates also engaged with religious figures through an active outreach program. A number of programs at high schools, universities, and Islamic boarding schools (pesantrens) focused on diversity, pluralism, and religious tolerance.