Calls for Indonesia to protect religious freedom

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has called upon Indonesia to take action to protect religious minorities and preserve religious freedom.

It warns of increasing violations of religious freedom in the majority-Muslim country after a CSW delegation returned from a three-week visit with first-hand evidence of violence against Christians and the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in particular.

The delegation visited churches in Bekasi and Bandung which have been forced to close, and met pastors who report rising levels of harrassment, threats and attacks.

Rev Palti Panjetan, pastor of the HKBP Filadelfia church in Bekasi, West Java, told CSW that his congregation was forbidden from using the church by the mayor despite being granted permission to worship in the building by a court.

The mayor's intervention has forced the congregation to meet for worship outside on the road, where it has even held communion and baptisms.

"This is not safe and not suitable," he said.

"The radicals want to push us to the limit, to see how long we are prepared to worship outside before we surrender. It might be a long time.”

Local Muslims who have supported the church have also faced intimidation from radical Islamists.

“We need support from the international community. There must be religious freedom for all,” Rev Panjetan told CSW.

“The rise of radicalism and violations of religious freedom are not only a problem between Indonesians. There is an international agenda.

"Wahhabi influence is growing. We need more international pressure. We need the international community to be a watchdog. If there is no help from the international community, we are hopeless, we will be destroyed.”

CSW also visited the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and met victims of violence in Cisalada and Cikeusik.

Three people were killed and many more injured when a mob of 1,500 attacked 21 members of the Ahmadiyya community in Cikeusik, in Banten province.

CSW met four survivors, one of whom described being stripped naked, dragged through a river, and beaten with sticks and machetes before losing consciousness. He alleged that the attackers had even tried to cut off his penis.

"They shouted that I was an ‘infidel’ and should be killed," he said.

“We just want security,” said one Ahmadi. “If the Indonesian government cannot protect us, we ask the international community to help us. We are citizens and have the same rights as other citizens.”

CSW called on the Indonesian government to curb radical Islamist activity and uphold pluralism.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said the findings of the delegation were a cause for serious concern.

"Indonesia’s long and proud tradition of pluralism, religious harmony and religious freedom is at risk if the Government of Indonesia does not protect minorities, prosecute perpetrators of violence and curb radicalism in all its forms," he said.

"We urge Indonesia to take firm action, and we encourage Indonesia to invite the UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief to visit this year, to conduct an independent investigation into violations of religious freedom.

"Indonesia, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council and the G-20, and as chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, has a responsibility to act. It is in its own interests to do so, for its reputation is at stake.”