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‘No place of worship’ should be barred
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Human rights activists are urging the government to revoke existing local administration rulings that have resulted in the sealing of churches and mosques, mainly in Java.
“Neither the police nor the government have taken any concrete actions in response to forced closures, meaning that they have failed to uphold the democratic values that activists and students strove for during the inception of 1998 reform movement,” Syafiq Alielha of the ‘98 Activists Communication Forum said Thursday at the Wahid Institute in Jakarta.
The country is seeing more and more cases in which local administrations, such as in Bekasi and Bogor, unilaterally close down places of worship due to political pressure from Muslim hard-liners, Syafiq said.
A recent report from the Indonesian Communion of Churches shows that more than 10 churches have suspended services due to mob threats and forcible closures this year. Affected church congregation members believe that mobs exploit the absence of building permits to seal off their churches.
Syafiq added that besides the closures of places of worship, the trend of employing violence to suppress the religious freedom of minority groups was escalating in the country.
On July 29, hundreds of protesters from several hard-line Islamic groups, such as the Islam Defenders Front, the Indonesia Mujahidin Council and the Islamic Community Forum, pushed their way into a mosque belonging to Islamic minority sect Ahmadiyah in Kuningan regency, West Java. The encroachment on Ahmadiyah’s territory led to rioting that damaged houses and reportedly injured three people.
Recent research from the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace reveals that there were 28 attacks on Christian churches between January and July this year. The number is higher than 2009’s year-end total of 18 cases and 2008’s 17 attacks.
Syafiq lamented the fact that the country had fallen back on primordial biases, which were exploited during the Soeharto era to pit religions against one another.
“What we dreamed of in 1998-an egalitarian, civilized, and multicultural society-is now sinking into the mire of vigilantism and ‘toothless’ law,” he said.
Another ‘98 activist, Bona Sigalingging, told The Jakarta Post that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had to take stern action against vigilante groups, which so far enjoyed immunity from law.
“I don’t understand why the Jakarta administration bows to such fundamentalist groups. For instance, the administration’s plan to cooperate with the Islam Defenders Front ‘FPI’ to secure the city during the Islamic fasting month, Ramadan, is just unacceptable,” he said.
Bona added the plan was a strong indication that the city’s law enforcement agencies were incapable of providing security for its citizens.
Edwin Partogi, another 98 activist, who works for the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said the police had their own interests in dealing with hard-line Muslim groups.
“Vigilantism will mushroom if law enforcement is weak,” Edwin said.
“In the case of our country, it seems that the police use mass organizations, especially those who politicize religious or ethnic symbols, as a buffer against minority groups, such as Ahmadiyah members or so-called communists,” he said.
He added that the police sometimes told the public that they had mediated when a conflict between church members and Muslim extremists occurred.
“They just use the term ‘peaceful and neutral’ mediation as a pretext to escape blame if violence ignites. But they seem unaware that they are law enforcement officers who have the capacity to bring human rights violators to justice,” Edwin added. (tsy)