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Lawmaker Rebukes Religious Minister
Armando Siahaan | September 16, 2010
Jakarta. The deputy speaker of the House of Representatives has roundly criticized Religious Minister Suryadharma Ali, joining human rights watchdogs in saying the man in charge of ensuring religious freedom actually did more to inhibit it.
The deputy speaker, Pramono Agung, of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), suggested on Thursday that recent statements by Suryadharma, including his advocacy for banning the Ahmadiyah sect, showed that members of political parties should not be appointed to the position he holds.
Suryadharma is the chairman of the United Development Party (PPP), the second-largest Islamic party in the country.
Pramono said some of Suryadharma’s decisions on religious issues had been heavily influenced by his political background.
“A religious affairs minister should be one who protects all religious groups. Not just his group or his religion,” Pramono said. Suryadharma “is unable to take unbiased action.”
Pramono’s statement comes amid a string of attacks on religious minorities across the country, including against the Ahmadiyah minority Muslim sect and churchgoers of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) of Pondok Timur Indah.
Pramono said a religious affairs minister without political affiliations would likely pursue more prudent policies.
“Let’s hope that the current situation will serve as a lesson in the future, for any cabinet,” Pramono said.
Romy Romahurmuzy, the PPP’s House factional secretary, disagreed with Pramono.
“The recommendation is irrelevant. The dynamics of religion would take place regardless of whether or not the minister came from a political party,” Romy said.
He pointed out that the religious affairs minister had always been from a political party in the past.
But many human rights watchdogs took Pramono’s side.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the deputy chairman for the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said: “It is very obvious that Suryadharma often uses his position for political interests to gain support.”
The most striking example, he said, was the minister’s statements to the House in late August that “the most suitable choice is to disband Ahmadiyah completely and not let them do their activities.”
Pramono has called for the revision of the 2006 Joint Ministerial Decree on Houses of Worship, which mandates that at least 60 residents of a neighborhood must support a new mosque or church before it can be built there.
“Maybe it is about time the House issues a law protecting religious harmony,” he said. “That is, after all, guaranteed by the 1945 Constitution.”