Freedom of religion suffers in divided nation State fails to protect, even violates, right to freedom of faith: Activists

The Jakarta Post

18 Dec 2019

Ivany Atina Arbi

Violations of religious freedom have continued to persist in Indonesia despite stipulations in Article 29 of the 1945 Constitution that guarantee the freedom to worship according to one’s own beliefs.

Imparsial, a human rights watchdog, recorded at least 31 violations of the freedom of religion and worship in the country last year. Most dominant were the dispersal of religious activities and the prohibition of the construction of houses of worship.

The majority of the victims were of minority religious groups, which, in Indonesia, consist of adherents to any religion except Islam. Muslims account for about 87 percent of the country’s 264 million people.

The minorities include Protestants, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians and hundreds of indigenous faiths such as Sundanese Wiwitan and Javanese Kejawen. Other citizens decline to identify their beliefs or lack religious sentiment altogether.

These groups received unfair treatment from private citizens, Islamic religious mass organizations and – to the surprise of many – local authorities who were supposed to defend citizens’ fundamental rights.

The government has done very little to change the state of affairs.

Twenty-eight of the 31 cases recorded by Imparsial this year were committed by local residents with the support of hardline mass organizations. The remaining three cases were perpetrated by state officials.

“The rampant practice of intolerance in Indonesia cannot be separated from the absence of the state in defending the freedom of religion for all. Worse, the state has itself become a violator of religious freedom,” Imparsial said in statement.

The watchdog group said the country was paving the way for further discrimination against minority groups by preserving a number of problematic and draconian regulations.

Those regulations include the 1965 Blasphemy Law, which has been used to target and criminalize minority groups, and a 2006 joint decree between the Home Ministry and the Religious Affairs Ministry that makes it difficult for minorities to build places of worship. Establishing a house of worship requires at least 90 signatures from congregation members and another 60 from people living in the neighborhood.

The Padma Buwana Hindu-Buddhist community, based in Mangir Lor village in Bantul regency, Yogyakarta, struggled for years to get permission from local neighbors to build a temple – but to no avail.

The community consequently “broke the rule” by establishing a small worship space in the home of Padma Buwana leader Utiek Suprapti in 2011. Community members said they were plagued with anxiety.

Their fears eventually came true in mid-November of this year. A score of people forcefully dispersed the temple’s anniversary celebration, known locally as Odalan.

The mob was reportedly “backed up” by the police who joined in the demands for the ceremony to be stopped. District police chief Adj. Comr. Sri Basariah suggested the worshipers “give in”, saying the ritual lacked permission from the province’s administration.

A researcher at religious freedom watchdog the Wahid Foundation, Alamsyah Dja’far, said religious activity did not require a permit to proceed unless it was conducted in a public space.

This was later confirmed by Religious Affairs Ministry spokesperson Ubaidillah who said that “the government did not control people’s relationship with God, which in this case was manifested in the form of worship”.

However, similar incidents of state interference in private religious activity have occurred repeatedly.

Last August, Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) officers dispersed a Sunday service held by the Efata congregation of the Indonesian Pentecostal Church (GPdI) at their pastor Daminius Sinaga’s home in Petalongan village, Indragiri Hilir regency, Riau.

The move was made after the Indragiri Hilir regent banned the Efata congregation from holding religious activities in the village, as requested by non-Pentecostal Petalongan villagers.

An expert from the Indonesian School of Government and Public Policy, A’an Suryana, argued that Indonesia in the post-New Order era might be considered a “weak state”, as it was failing to uphold citizens’ basic rights to religious freedom and security, among other things.

A’an explained that “communal violence against minorities” started to rise in 1998, after the outbreak of violence in the aftermath of the reform movement to overthrow the New Order regime, which for decades had excessive control of society.

He noted in his recently published book, titled The State and Religious Violence in Indonesia: Minority Faiths and Vigilantism,

that violations against religious freedom had been a common occurrence in the country over the past decades.

Researchers at rights group Setara Institute reported around 2,400 incidents of violations against religious freedom. About 3,200 violations of freedom had occurred in the country since the group began compiling reports in 2007.

State actors had also played a role in the violations, in addition to non-state actors like civil society and mass organizations.

Experts argued that the current government, particularly President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, had to take a firm stance against violations of religious freedom for it to stop completely.

That could be realized, they said, by revoking or revising discriminatory regulations and endorsing strict legal enforcement against intolerant actors.

Jokowi, who was reelected this year and has laid out his vision for the country in the next five years, failed to highlight the importance of safeguarding religious freedom.

In fact, upholding citizens’ freedom of religion and, at the same time, embracing their differences and uniqueness are essential to keep the multireligious and multiethnic nation united.

The article originally appeared in thejakartapost on December 18, 2019

A’an Suryana was awarded Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program for Mid-Career Professionals in 2006 to study Communication/Journalism at  University of Maryland

Last Updated: Dec 27, 2019 @ 6:46 pm

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