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Right to Worship Still Under Threat, Watchdog Warns
Nurfika Osman ("Jakarta Globe," February 3, 2010)

In another blow to Indonesia’s drive for religious tolerance, a report released on Wednesday said 200 violations against freedom of worship were filed with state agencies in 2009, involving 139 cases.

Hendardi, the chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said the violations occurred because of the country’s poor efforts in upholding religious freedom.

“The 1945 Constitution [Article 28 A paragraph 2] guarantees freedom of religion or belief … yet these rights are seriously neglected and not enforced as the violations continue to occur,” Hendardi said. “The government is half-hearted in upholding the right to worship.”

He said that the institute monitors freedom of religion in Jakarta, Banten West Java, Central Kalimantan, North Sulawesi, Gorontalo, Bali, Maluku, West and East Nusa Tenggara, and North, West, and South Sumatra.

“West Java has the highest number of violations, with 57 cases, followed by Jakarta with 38 cases,” he said, adding that Banten was third with 10.

He said state agencies and officials often prohibited believers of certain faiths, such as Christians and the Ahmadiyah sect of Islam, from praying or building places of worship.

“We also found government officials discriminating groups such as Ahmadiyah and prohibiting them from using public facilities,” he said. “Officials from the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Indonesian Ulema Council [MUI] are among them.”

“The Ahmadiyah remains the most persecuted community having fallen victim in 33 cases recorded in 2009,” Hendardi said.

The most flagrant abuse last year was the attack on Ahmadiyah supporters by the FPI and other hard-line Islamic groups at a pro-tolerance rally at Monas. Many Ahmadiyyah followers, he said, were being rejected by their villages in West Nusa Tenggara.

Other violations against the Muslim sect, such as burning their mosques and limiting their access to conduct prayer, were also recorded last year.

According to the report, there were fewer violations of the right to worship than in 2008, which saw 265 cases.

Rohadi Abdul Fatah, the director of Islam and Shariah law at the Ministry of Religious Affairs, denied Setara’s accusations.

“That is a lie and their research lacks strong referencing. Our officials always work according to the law and procedure,” Rohadi told the Jakarta Globe. “We never harm other groups, by, for example, prohibiting them from using public facilities or burning their places of worship. That is totally against human rights and the law.”

Regarding the Ahmadiyah, he said that the ministry did not tolerate them, but that did not mean the ministry did not protect them.

“We keep persuading the Ahmadiyah through education and communication so that they will return to the right path of Islam,” he said. “We don’t tolerate anyone who harms them even though their belief is not acceptable in Islam.”

Slamet Effendy Yusuf, the head of interreligious harmony department at the MUI, agreed.

“The Setara research is not correct and they never confirm what they have found to MUI,” Slamet said.

“We have committed no violations. In fact, whenever there are interreligious disputes, we are the ones who encourage dialogue to settle the disputes.”

Regarding the establishment of worship places, both said that devotees of every religion had to first ask local residents.

“There are no restrictions to establishing a church or any kind of place of worship because the freedom to do so is governed by a joint ministerial regulation,” Slamet said.

“However, the regulation states that permission should be sought from the local residents.”


Related Sections | Persecution