Clinton urged to speak up for religious minorities in Indonesia

Human Rights Watch is calling upon US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to raise concerns about religious minorities during her visit to Indonesia.

Clinton is arriving in Jakarta today for talks on the US-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership.

HRW says the Indonesian authorities have failed to adequately address increasing mob violence by militant Islamist groups in Java and Sumatra against religious minorities, including Christians, Shia Muslims and the Ahmadiyah.

Authorities have often failed to charge those involved in the attacks and where punishments have been handed out, they have been “remarkably light”, HRW said.

Christians in Indonesia report that at least 22 churches have been forced to close this year. Earlier in the year, unidentified gunmen opened fire on the building of the Indonesian Christian church in Indramayu, in West Java Province. No one was killed in the attack but the congregation was left shaken.

There are also reports of officials revoking permissions for new churches to be built and delaying the issue of building permits.

HRW warned that the 1965 blasphemy law and laws on criminal defamation were being used by the authorities to prosecute members of religious minorities.

Shia cleric Tajul Muluk was arrested on 13 April for blasphemy, a crime carrying up to five years in prison, and extortion by threatening defamation, which carries up to a year in prison. He was charged under article 335 of the Criminal Code for alleged “deviant teachings”.

Hasan Suwandi, a guardian of the Ahmadiyah Cipeuyeum mosque in Cianjur, West Java, is on trial for criminal defamation, punishable by up to two years in prison. The charges were brought against him after he was quoted in a newspaper saying that the local police chief had given permission for an Ahmadiyah mosque to be reopened.

“Secretary Clinton should press the Indonesian government to take concrete steps to address rising religious intolerance,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

“Indonesia needs to recognise that oppressive laws and policies against religious minorities fuel violence and discrimination.

“Holding minority religious beliefs in Indonesia should not put one’s life and property at risk. Secretary Clinton should not miss this important opportunity to speak out strongly on these issues.”