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February 16, 2010
Public Debate Targets Police Inaction on Religious Violence
Alleged police indifference to violence targeting religious minorities was questioned on Tuesday during a public discussion in Jakarta held by civil-society organizations about the prospects for reform.
“Violence in the name of religion often happens in front of the police. But they just stood there while somebody was being flushed with acid,” said Malik, a member of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).
“How could they just stand there while a church was being vandalized, a mosque being burned? It seems that the police officers were impotent when facing such tragedies.”
In response, Insp. Gen. Imam Soejarwo, National Police chairman for bureaucratic reform, said the police saw everyone as equal before the law.
“If we did nothing, it’s because we were concerned about the possibility of bigger calamities if we jumped in to intervene,” he said, adding that situations may have made it impossible for the police to take firmer action.
A report released this month by the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace revealed that 200 violations against freedom of worship were reported to state agencies in 2009.
On Monday, members of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) forcibly closed Galilea Church in Bekasi, alleging that the congregation had been trying to convert Muslim residents. Police were only seen guarding the premises on Monday after the incident.
Syafi’i Anwar, executive director of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism, told the Jakarta Globe that police officers are often indecisive when it comes to such acts.
“They think that it would violate human rights if they did something,” he said. “They also tend to think that the Indonesian Ulema Council [MUI] should take care of it. Police officers in the field should be given the understanding that violence, even though based on religion, is in itself a violation of human rights, so it has to be stopped.
“The violence toward the Ahmadiyah and churches is not right in any way, and the police should not just stand there because some religious majority said the other faiths are wrong.”
Setara’s report identified the Ahmadiyah sect of Islam as the most persecuted community in the nation, victimized in 33 cases recorded in 2009.
Jakarta Police spokesman Chief Comr. Boy Rafli Amar said the reform strategy included using police “as an instrument to support human rights.”
Bambang Widodo Umar, a former police officer who is now an independent police expert, said reform has to be applied to the police education system.
“In my time, we never heard of education about minority rights, gender equality. We heard of it but we never really learned anything about it,” he said.
“This is why the concept of ‘human security’ [instead of the old state security] has to be taught in police academies to respond to the challenges of becoming a modern democratic country.”