Indonesia’s president must do more to protect Christian minority

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo must do more to protect the country’s Christians and other religious minorities from Islamist attacks, according to a report published on 31 August by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).

The report praises President Widodo’s recognition of the gravity of religious persecution and his attempts to target radical Islamist groups, but says he must “adopt a strict policy in the area of law and order. After all, every incident of blocking of worship services, violent attacks, and closure of churches is a blatant violation of law.”

In August, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phelim Kine came to the same conclusion. “Widodo can start by pursuing swift punishment of police and government officials who are too often passively or actively complicit in incidents of harassment, intimidation, or violence against religious minorities,” he said.

President Widodo’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, “turned a blind eye to the problem during his decade as president,” said Mr Kine.

The complicity of government officials is all too obvious in two high-profile battles to reopen the GKI Yasmin church in Bogor, West Java, and the HKBP church in Bekasi. Local authorities closed GKI Yasmin in February 2008 claiming that it did not have the proper building permits. It later transpired that Muslims had pressured authorities to obstruct the church building plans.

Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the church in 2010 and ordered Bogor mayor Diani Budiar to reopen the building, he has refused to do so.

HKBP was shut down in January 2010 after an official accused the church of forging signatures to gain building rights. The Supreme Court ruled in the church’s favour in June 2011, but still it has not been reopened.

According to a 2006 decree, a place of worship requires applicants to obtain signatures from 60 local households of different faiths in support of the new place of worship, approval from the local religious affairs office and local authorities, and recommendation from the local Interfaith Communication Forum.

The requirements make it extremely difficult for Christians to obtain building permits. Even though the decree was meant to apply only to new places of worship, local authorities are imposing it retrospectively to long-standing churches. An average of 40 churches are being shut down every year.

Members from both GKI Yasmin and HKBP meet every other Sunday outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city, to peacefully protest against the injustice. At one such service in 2012, an Islamist mob hurled urine, sewage and frogs at the Christians who had gathered together to worship.


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