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Intolerant Islamic groups versus religious minorities
A. Junaidi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
A wind of change swept through civil and political liberties under the so-called reform era – which was marked by the downfall of president Soeharto’s authoritarian regime 12 years ago.
But overtime, growing religious conservatism, if not downright radicalism, also crept through Indonesian society. Religious conflicts became unavoidable, and the victims, of course are the minorities.
The latest spat, which occurred last Friday, involved a group of people under the aegis of the Parung Ulema Forum who demanded Catholics cancel their Good Friday mass at their Saint Johannes Baptista Church in Bogor, West Java.
Earlier this year, another Muslim group protested against the building of the Filadelfia Huria Kristen Batak Protestant (HKBP) church in Bekasi, also in West Java. Subjected to relentless pressure, Bekasi Regent Sa’aduddin unilaterally banned the construction, forcing the congregation to hold its Sunday service in an open field nearby.
Tensions has not only flared up between certain Muslim groups and Christians, but also “inside” the Muslim community. The “victims” tend to hold different interpretations of Islamic teachings. Muslim hardliners, for instance, have been targeting the likes of Jamaah Ahmadiyah.
Many followers of traditional beliefs have also complained about the “threat” of increasing conservatism.
According to a report issued by the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, there were 200 violations of freedom of worship last year. The institute recorded 265 similar cases in 2008 and 135 cases in 2007.
Setara added that in many of the cases, state officials were either “actively” involved or guilty by “lack of action” or “omission”. State institutions involved include the police, the ministry of religious affairs, mayors, regents and courts.
According to the report, the Indonesian Ulema Council, the Islam Defender Front and the Forum of Islamic Community or FUI were the main culprits behind most of the violations of freedom of worship. Most of the cases occurred in West Java, Jakarta and Banten.
Setara is one of several organizations – including Imparsial, the Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam), the Indonesian Human Rights and Legal Aid Association (PBHI), the Institute for Studies on Human Rights and Democracy (Demos), the Desantara Foundation, the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), which filed a petition asking the Constitutional Court to revoke the 1965 Blasphemy Law, deemed as discriminatory against certain religious groups.
High-profile personalities who joined the groups include late former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, Muslim activist M. Dawam Rahardjo, noted Islamic scholar Ahmad Syafii Maarif and women activist Musdah Mulia.
The petitioners believe the law can trigger sectarian conflicts as it only officially recognizes five religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Gus Dur’s administration later acknowledged Confucianism as an official religion. One article of the Blasphemy Law bans people from interpreting religious teachings differently from official religions.
The law is believed to violate the State Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.
The court has been conducting hearings every Wednesday and Friday to hear the opinions of petitioners, government officials and dozens of experts.