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Local govts ‘main actors’ in faith attacks
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The trend of employing violent means to suppress the religious freedom of minority groups is escalating, with local governments acting as the greatest violator, a report shows.
The research, carried out by the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, shows there were 28 attacks on Christian churches between January and July this year. The figure is higher than 2009’s year-end total of 18 cases and 2008’s 17 attacks.
According to Setara deputy chairman Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the trend was troublesome because it reflected a continuing trend of violations against the constitutional and human rights of certain citizens.
“It’s true that no congregation members were hospitalized from being beaten up. But isn’t intimidation, the banning of houses of worship, and the sealing of churches by government a form of violence?” The sealing of churches and the refusal to grant building permits top the list of major violations.
The forceful closure of churches, the burning of churches and obstruction of services are next, with three cases each.
As an example, Bekasi administration sealed the Filadelfia Batak Protestant church in January after protests from hard-line religious groups contested the absence of the church’s building permit. Church officials said they had obeyed all the government’s requirements.
A 2006 joint ministerial decree outlines requirements needed to build a house of worship, including obtaining signatures from congregations and residents living nearby, as well as approval from the local administration.
The research supports the finding that name local administrations, organizations and citizens as the main violators, with 12, 10 and five cases attributed to each.
“The puritan and radical Islamic movement is strong in West Java,” Bonar said. “Sixteen cases were seen in Jakarta’s satellite cities of Depok, Tangerang, Bekasi and even in Karawang.”
Political motives, economic interests involving illegal extortion, and ideological clashes of “intolerant groups” refusing the presence of those with different religion mired most cases, he added.
“The local administration sees these groups as assets for local elections,” he said. “They bow to pressure from mass organizations that insist the churches’ presence and activities have caused unrest.”
Bonar said churches in Jakarta mainly faced trouble in renovating and expanding their buildings, which require building permits.
“They have to start over again by obtaining 60 signatures from residents living around the church and sometimes residents refuse to provide signatures,” he said.
Bonar urged the government to take legal action against violent groups as a deterrent for future cases.
However, the government has remained unresponsive to intolerant groups who violate the Constitution.
“We have a hesitant President. He is too busy maintaining his image,” he said. “It’s time to show a strong and definite leadership that would decide the political future of the country.”
The report recommends President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono review the 2006 joint ministerial decree and facilitate the establishment of houses of worship that have suffered rejections from local administrations and society.
A Catholic priest from the Indonesian Bishops Council, Father Beni Susetyo, said the problem lay in regional administrations’ inconsistency and lack of commitment to complying with regulations on the establishment of houses of worship.
“We are witnessing the politics of negligence, which makes people feel discrimination has taken place because the Constitution grants everyone the right to practice religions. If [local] administrations can be intimidated by those who commit violence, this country is doomed,” he said. (gzl)