Indonesian minorities protest growing religious intolerance

Around 200 Christian, Muslim Shiite and Ahmadiyah leaders protested in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Monday against growing religious intolerance in the Sunni Muslim-majority country.

The rally of minority groups followed the demolition of a church and the closure of an Ahmadi mosque, both in Bekasi, east of Jakarta, in recent weeks after pressure from Muslim hardliners.

The leaders -- most of whom were Christian -- gathered outside the parliament building, singing the country's national anthem and shouting "we have rights" and "stop intolerance".

They also waved Indonesian flags and banners emblazoned with photographs of the demolished church and sealed Ahmadi mosque.

"It's a basic human right to be able to practise one's faith in peace. Aren't we all Indonesians, why are we treated like the hated stepson?" Guido Suprapto, a pastor from the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia, told AFP.

The group also met with the chairman of the national legislature, Taufiq Kiemas, to demand President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono do more to protect minorities and guarantee religious freedom.

"The president must do something to stop the serious violence and discrimination against us and accommodate the needs of various faiths to have a house of worship," Suprapto said.

While Christians and Ahmadis -- who do not believe Mohammed was the last prophet and are regarded as heretics by hardliners in Indonesia -- have seen their places of worship closed, Shiites have been subjected to violent attacks.

In August, a mob of hundreds armed with sickles and swords hacked a Shiite man to death and torched more than 30 houses in the town of Sampang, East Java province.

Shiites and Sunnis agree on the fundamentals of Islam, but disagree over the question of who were the true successors of Prophet Mohammed as leaders of the emerging Muslim community.

Ninety percent of Indonesia's 240 million people identify themselves as Muslim but the constitution guarantees freedom of religion.