‘We really feel afraid’: Indonesia’s religious pluralism under threat – report

Ahmadi and Shia Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities are being increasingly targeted by radical Muslims in Indonesia, according to an investigative report by a Christian NGO.

Published on Tuesday, the report documents a trip in May by human rights non-profit Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) to Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation – to investigate the situation of minority faith communities.

CSW arrived in Jakarta in May, the day after the city’s Christian-Chinese former governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama was jailed for two years under Indonesia’s strict blasphemy laws.

Ahok was found to have insulted Islam due to comments he made about a Quranic verse regarding whether or not Muslims can elect a non-Muslim.

The dramatic toppling of the governor came after a campaign that saw hardline Muslim groups shut down the capital numerous times with mass demonstrations, sparking widespread fears of rising extremism in the traditionally tolerant, religiously diverse nation.

The report cites Ahok’s imprisonment – the culmination of the most high-profile blasphemy case in Indonesian history – as a case study to demonstrate the rising influence of hardline Islam at the expense of religious minority communities.

Almost 100 cases of blasphemy have been brought before Indonesian courts since the laws were introduced in 1965 – however, a vast majority (89) of these cases have occurred in the democratic era since the fall of former dictator Suharto in 1998. Conviction rates are extremely high.

“In recent years, Indonesia’s strong and proud pluralistic tradition, rooted in the heart of the constitution, has come under threat,” reads the report. One member from the Ahmadiyya community told CSW “Ahok’s case has become a barometer.”

The report also documents the plight of Indonesia’s Ahmadiyyas – a Muslim minority sect in predominantly Sunni Indonesia – whose 500,000-strong community has been increasingly targeted since 2005 by violence and state-sanctioned persecution via the outlawing of their religious teachings.

“Our hope is that you remind the government that Indonesia is not an Islamic country. We are based on Pancasila. Remind our government it is not a religious government,” one Ahmadi told CSW.

The report claims while the situation of religious minorities continues to deteriorate, “incidents of severe violence” have declined since 2014. Moreover, CSW claimed they observed growing grassroots support for interfaith initiatives promoting harmony and tolerance.

It cites the Islamic-based Wahid Foundation – established in 2004 to “advance the humanitarian vision” of former president Gus Dur – as an example of such civil society action.

Nevertheless, moderate Muslim voices are being drowned out, claims the report. One source told CSW even members of the mainstream Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), an organisation which claims to be the largest Muslim group in the world, are increasingly threatened with violence by radicals.

“Christians face pressure from radical groups and in some cases, they have lost the courage to worship. They feel afraid,” said one pastor in Bandung – a city where last Christmas hardline groups targeted festive decorations in malls and forcibly shut down public Christian events.

This sentiment was echoed by a group of pastors in North Sumatra, who told CSW: “We really feel afraid.”