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US, Australia warn RI about growing intolerance
Zamzam Aden, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
A United States congressman and Australian envoy as well as local and international experts expressed concerns over recent attacks on minority groups in Indonesia, warning that the attacks were a threat to freedom of expression.
US Congressman David Dreier, who met President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday to hold talks on bilateral issues, told a press conference on Tuesday that he was willing to discuss the recent attacks on Ahmadis if the issue came up.
“The burning of churches is something I believe is anathema to the idea of allowing freedom of expression, which I know the Indonesian government supports,” said Dreier.
“We’re not here to intervene in internal affairs, but I know there is a great concern about the whole situation of any kind of religious intolerance.”
Recent attacks on the minority Ahmadiyah Muslim sect involved the killing of three men in Cikeusik village, Banten province, and attacks on three churches in Temanggung, Central Java.
Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Greg Moriarty said he was appalled by the killings “but similarly many Indonesians were appalled by those killings and violence” and that he believed President Yudhoyono was committed to bringing the perpetrators to justice.
“We have to take the President’s words at face value,” said Moriarty
Yudhoyono should not wait too long to act said political expert Nasir Tamara.
“The state should not be absent. Indonesia is a democratic country and the state should protect its citizens, including religious minorities,” said Nasir.
On Monday, Ahmadiyah spokesman Zafrullah Pontoh rejected a government proposal to deem the sect a new religion.
Nasir said the government should not attempt to corner Ahmadiyah with the proposal, which in effect would forcefully eject Ahmadis from Islam.
“This is nothing new; everyone knew it would happen,” said Nasir.
A visiting Australian professor of the Australia-Indonesia Institute Board, David Hill, said that like other communities, Indonesia’s acceptance of different religious views had not been as successful as many would have hoped.
“Indonesia certainly faces considerable challenges in that regard, but what is clear to me is the forces of tolerance far outweigh the voice of intolerance.”