Leaders demand that govt guarantee religious freedom

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Irawaty Wardany, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Mon, 02/13/2012 11:10 PM A

As religious leaders celebrated what is known as World Interfaith Harmony Week here on Sunday, the Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) Yasmin congregation was still prevented from holding religious services in their Bogor church.

On Sunday, dozens of congregation members held a service, presided over by Rev. Ujang Tanusaputra, in front of the State Palace in a gesture seeking government help.

“This is our way of showing our concerns for this country. We’ve been barred from our church for months. Our house of worship is sealed,” said GKI Yasmin spokesman Dwiati Novita Rini after the service.

Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto has banned the congregation from using the church for religious services due to permit application issues. The administration has defied a 2010 Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing the congregation’s right to hold services at the church.

Dwiati said GKI Yasmin church had been sealed and locked since 2010 and the congregation resorted to conducting services on the pavement in front of the church complex.

Responding to this lengthy standoff between GKI Yasmin and the Bogor administration, Indonesia’s Interreligious Council (IRC) chairman Din Syamsuddin said on Sunday the government should guarantee the rights of all religious groups. He also called on all religious groups to refrain from violence.

“I am really concerned about the current condition of [Indonesian] religious groups. The government has failed to protect [the groups] when practicing their respective religious beliefs,” he said on the sidelines of the World Interfaith Harmony Week meeting in Jakarta.

The government, he added, should handle the problems seriously. Otherwise, religious-related violence would continue to occur.

Recently the Ahmadiyah sect, which the government considers deviant, was subject to violence. The Shiite community in Sampang, Madura, was also the target of attacks from a nearby Muslim community. The repeated violence against religious followers has shown up a lack of state action in its failure to protect citizens from attacks by others.

Furthermore, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali recently called the Shiites heretical, a statement that could be used by hard line organizations to attack the groups.

Meanwhile, in opposition to the presence of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), which has used violence on occasion, residents in Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan staged a protest at the province’s Tjilik Riwut airport on Saturday. They objected to four senior FPI leaders, who were scheduled to inaugurate the organization’s provincial branch in the city. The protesters alleged that the FPI often conducted violent acts against minority groups in the name of Islam.

Din Syamsuddin, who is also the chairman of Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, said that religious mass organizations also had the right to exist as long as they did not resort to violence.

“I’m not talking about specific groups, but in general they have the right to exist, the right to speak up. However, they can only do that under one condition: they should be nonviolent,” he said.

He added that many mass organizations were needed in Indonesia because they contributed to the country, referring to Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah.

Several religious leaders attended the celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week on Sunday. Among them were Andreas Yewangoe of the Indonesian Conference of Churches, I Nyoman Udayana of the Indonesian Hindu Organization, Philip Wijaya of the High Buddhist Council and Wawan Wiratma of the Confucian group Matakin.

All of the leaders agreed that interfaith dialogue was important to promote peace and harmony despite religious differences.

I Nyoman Udayana said that all human beings were the same before God.

“It is only good or bad [deeds] that will differentiate us. Therefore, all human beings should live in harmony and diversity,” Nyoman said.

He added that although religious rights were stipulated in law, in practice the government should not discriminate against any minority group.

Din Syamsuddin said that there were no religions in Indonesia that opposed diversity, “Stop looking at what is different, start looking at our similarities in order to live in peace and harmony.”

World Interfaith Harmony Week was declared by United Nations General Assembly in 2011 and is celebrated in the first week of February. (rpt)