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Editorial: State-sponsored tyranny

The Jakarta Post | Editorial | Fri, April 12 2013

As Friday prayers begin today, we might ask if all Indonesians truly enjoy the equal right to worship.

A peaceful rally on Monday was a painful reminder of our rights other than voting. Protesters demanding equal protection of their religions under the law marched on the House of Representatives, comprising 300 followers of minority faiths, including Ahmadis, Shias, Christians and indigenous beliefs.

The adherents have shared experiences of constant harassment, such as in the mob murder of three Ahmadis in Pandeglang, Banten, in February 2011. Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, the perpetrators only received a sentence of six months imprisonment.

Then in August 2012, two Shias were killed in Sampang, Madura. Like the Ahmadis in Lombok who were expelled from their homes and have lived in shelters for the past seven years, the Shiites from Madura were driven out.

All would be well if the Ahmadis converted to “proper” Islam, the regent said at the time.

Over last weekend, several Ahmadis remained holed up in their mosque in Bekasi. The local administration sealed the mosque, alleging that the Ahmadis had propagated their beliefs in violation of a joint ministerial decree. The Ahmadis, however, said they were only conducting Friday prayers.

Officials in Bekasi also recently demolished a Protestant church, citing objections from the predominantly Muslim neighborhood.

State endorsement of tyranny by a minority of hard-line Muslims continues to embolden brazen mob action against faiths other than Islam. Meanwhile, police and local officials, taking the lead from Jakarta’s inaction in protecting minority rights, look on or even lead the closures of churches and mosques.

Given the situation in Indonesia’s own backyard, how can the nation expect to maintain any credibility when offering its services as a mediator for ethnic and religious conflict in Myanmar and Sri Lanka?

Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi and Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali have openly stated that local official actions against religious minorities do not breach the rules on regional autonomy.

Suryadharma has even stated that Ahmadiyah and Shiite teachings violate Islam — raising the issue of whether we want to let politicians, ministers or the state decide matters of conviction.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said that the protracted dispute over a church permit in Bogor, West Java, was under the local mayor’s jurisdiction.

Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, Yudhoyono made his statement despite a Supreme Court ruling
ordering the mayor to allow the congregation to build its church.

Silence has led to the enactment of more than 100 local bylaws and central government policies that discriminate against minorities, according to one government commission. Such discrimination was effectively supported by the Constitutional Court in 2010, when justices upheld the 1965 law on blasphemy, continuing to provide a legal justification to suppress minority faiths by upholding the right of the state to sanction official religions.

Groups alarmed by increasing religious intolerance amid central government impotence say a return to the national ideology of Pancasila would better guarantee religion freedom and human rights, as was originally proposed in the bill on mass organizations soon to be enacted by a House plenary meeting.

However, several influential mainstream groups took issue with such moves, recalling their repression under Soeharto, leading to the creation of an utterly ridiculous divide between Pancasila and Islam.

Indonesia has failed to protect its minorities, who have constantly been denied their rights to worship, marry, declare their faith — and even their right to life.

Except for the handful of Muslim youth who safeguarded the Monday rally and the few residents who helped bring the Ahmadis food and drink to their sealed mosque, our image of harmony is outdated.

The state must end this tyranny done in the name of the majority.

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