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U.S. Commission Finds Indonesia On The “Threshold” of “Systematic, Ongoing, and Egregious” Violations of Religious FreedomTuesday, May 21st, 2013
Indonesian President Yudhoyono intends to accept an award for promoting religious freedom at the end of May despite several protests from Christians and other religious minorities. Christians say the president does not deserve an award for religious freedom when incidents of persecution against Christians have risen considerably under his administration. In 2012, ICC estimates that at least 50 churches were forcibly shut down by local authorities across Indonesia at the behest of radical Islamic organizations. In addition threats against Christians on the island of Sulawesi continue on a regular basis.
Indonesia's President, Susilo Yudhoyono, was recently granted an award for promoting religious freedom by a U.S. based inter-faith group. The award comes as a shock to representatives of certain Christian communities as well as other religious minorities that have faced harassment, forced closure of places of worship, and even violence at the hands of the Muslim majority. They say the president has done little if anything to prevent the "rising wave of religious intolerance" that is overtaking Indonesia.
A small group of about 50 Christian and members of other religious minorities marched to the U.S. embassy in Jakarta earlier this week to protest a U.S. based interfaith group awarding Indonesian President Yudhoyono for promoting religious freedom. The award comes despite violent attacks against minority Muslim communities and the forced closure of hundreds of churches during Yudhoyono's presidency.
In a move that seems to defy common sense, a US based inter-faith organization is presenting an annual award for the promotion religious tolerance to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The award comes despite the forced closure of at least 50 churches last year across Indonesia sparked by radical Islamic groups as well as multiple violent attacks against minority Muslim sects. At least two prominent churches, GKI Yasmin and HKBP Filadelfia in West Java, have remained sealed by the local government despite a supreme court ruling that the churches should be re-opened. President Yudhoyono has done little to curb what Human Rights Watch recently called a "rising wave" of religious intolerance across Indonesia.
Indonesia's government has been woefully complicit in the sealing and even demolition of Christian churches under threat from radical Islamic groups. A group of 20 pastors held a meeting with the district head of Bekasi, a city where many of the church closures take place, but left disappointing after the official failed to provide any solution or hope that the church closures would end, let alone be reversed.
More than half a dozen Christian churches have been forcibly shut down by local government officials in the city of Bekasi, Indonesia, thanks to pressure from radical Islamic groups. On March 21st one of those churches was even demolished with heavy machinery as the congregation watched in horror. A group of 20 pastors is going to meet with local officials to protest the sealing of churches.
It appears that the forced closure and demolition of churches in Indonesia is beggining to attract international attention. Over the Easter weekend religious leaders from the United States, including Christians, Muslims, and Jews, wrote a letter of support to the churches of Indonesia that have been forced from their places of worship by radical groups.
Christians from multiple churches gathered in front of Indonesia's presidential palace on Easter Sunday to hold a special service and protest worsening discrimination across the country. Among the Christians were members of the HKBP Setu church, which was demolished just ten days ago by local authorities in the city of Bekasi. The Indonesian government has largely capitulated to demands by radical Islamic groups that churches abandon their places of worship. Dozens of churches in the Jakarta area alone have been sealed shut by authorities as radical mobs gather outside to protest their existence.
Last week local government officials in the city of Bekasi, Indonesia demolished a Protestant church while Islamic radicals quoted verses from the Quran and cheered. The demolition comes after years of forced church closures in the area and discrimination against churches in the area trying to obtain building permits.
The recent demolition of a large Protestant church on the outskirts of Indonesia's capital last week has sparked defiance from Christians upset with years of discrimination and persecution. Members of the HKBP Setu church watched in horror as their church was torn down by heavy machinery last week while Islamic protestors clapped and cheered. The demolition is the first of its kind in the city of Bekasi, an industrial area that is known for highly active radical Islamic political groups. But protests outside of Christian churches have been common place for years and Christians have often found themselves forced out of their buildings and threatened by local Islamic leaders.
A crowd of Muslim residence cheered last week as local Indonesian government officials demolished the newly erected walls of a protestant church on the outskirts of the nations capital. For several years pressure has been growing on churches in this particular area of Indonesia to halt services and relocate. Radical Islamic groups are often behind this pressure and use building permit laws as a pretext for demanding the sealing and even demolition of Christian churches.
As Catholics across Indonesia began celebrating Holy Week, radical Islamic groups on the island of West Java began threatening to attack some of the events if they were not canceled. Tensions between Christians and Muslims have risen consistently over the past several years in Indonesia as violent incidents targeting Christians continue to grow.
Discrimination and outright violence towards Christians in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim majority country, seems to be rising rapidly. The clearest example of this can be seen in the pressure many churches are facing to shut down or relocate, especially on the island of West Java. The local government typically works with or caves to pressure from radical Islamic groups by failing to issue building permits for churches, sealing buildings that lack a permit, and allowing radical groups to protest and even attack Christian congregations as they attempt to meet outside their sealed buildings. ICC is monitoring the situation closely.
It appears that local officials in the Indonesian city of Bekasi, on the outskirts of the nations capital, have begun demolishing Christian churches that lack a building permit. One of the churches now threatened with demolition, HKBP Filadelfia, has spent more than a year protesting the sealing of the church by local officials who have caved to pressure from Islamic radical groups to push the congregation out of the area. We do not yet know if the HKBP Filadelfia church has been demolished, but at least one other church in the area was bulldozed on Thursday. The sealing of the churches, as well as the nearly impossible to acquire building permits required by a 2006 law, fly in the face of Indonesia's claim to be a "tolerant" democracy that welcomes all faiths.
Despite protests by the Christian congregation, local government officials in Bekasi bulldozed a protestant church on Thursday after banning the congregation from holding services in their building the previous week. Officials cited the lack of a building permit which is required by a law passed in 2006. In reality many churches operate without these permits, which can be almost impossible to obtain. Radical Islamic groups then use the permit law as a pretext for demanding a church be sealed shut. Some churches have managed to obtain a building permit only after paying large sums to government offices.
In the city of Bekasi, Indonesia, radical Islamic groups have been working tirelessly to push Christian congregations out of their churches and as far into hiding as possible. Using the pretext of a permit law passed in 2006, radical groups often pressure churches to abandon their buildings or face an angry mob of Islamic rioters. In this most recent incident the local government has sealed a protestant church and even ordered the congregation to dismantle the building themselves. The pastor of the church has refused, saying that what is done to the church now is the responsibility of the government.
More than a decade after the tragic massacre of Christian villagers in Duma in Indonesia’s Maluku Islands, it remains a mystery if anyone was prosecuted for the mass murders and rioting. What’s common knowledge, instead, is that anti-Christian hostility is only escalating in a country which lacks the political will to enforce the values of its own constitution.
At least one church has been forcibly sealed and another is under threat by Islamic radicals for ostensibly lacking a building permit. The pretext of a building permit is often used in Indonesia by radical groups seeking to forcibly push churches out of villages and cities.
“ICC is deeply concerned not only be the consistent increase in violent attacks against religious minorities in Indonesia but by the inability or unwillingness of the government to firmly address the issue. We urge President Yudhoyono to step in and take immediate concrete action to halt incidents of religious violence against not only Christians but all religious minorities. The people of Indonesia should not have to live in fear of being attacked simply for attending a Sunday morning church service. The Indonesian government must protect the right to worship freely or risk losing the nations already tarnished reputation as a tolerant democracy.”
According to multiple sources violence against religious minorities, including Christians, has been surging across Indonesia over the past year. The violence is an indication of a broad increase in intolerance towards Christians and other religious minorities as radical Islamic groups seek to increase their influence over the countries more than 200 million Muslims. Dozens of churches have been forced to shut down after mobs of angry radicals protested outside of their buildings, with some incidents even turning violent as the mobs hurled dirt, garbage, and bags of urine at the congregations.
"A motorcyclist came down the road and tried to hit me. When I looked down, I saw that I was bleeding. The police were 100 meters away. The attackers also had friends nearby. They attacked and beat the Reverend Luspida Simanjuntak until she was down on the ground. The police put me and the reverend on a police motorcycle. The thugs pulled her off the motorcycle and hit her three times with a wooden stick."
Eight Indonesian Christians have been living in or near a New Jersey church for months after they were threatened with deportation from the United States. The Christians fled mass persecution in Indonesia nearly a decade ago but failed to file the proper paperwork after the September 11th attacks required anyone who had come to the U.S. from Muslims nations on temporary visas to register. U.S. immigration officials have given the Christians a reprieve from deportation.
Next week Islamic and Christian leaders from across Asia will meet in Jakarta, Indonesia to discuss the relationship between the two faiths. Islamic leaders have promised to discuss acts of intolerance against Christians in Indonesia which have been on the rise for the past several years.
Two churches in the Jakarta capital area of Indonesia have spent the last year holding services in front of the nation’s presidential palace in a longsuffering attempt to draw attention to the persecution they face. The two churches, known as GKI Yasmin and HKBP Filadelfia, were forced out of their buildings by mobs of angry Islamic protestors and have been blocked by the local government from using the property they own. ICC met with the pastor of the HKBP Filadelfia church last year and recorded his powerful testimony of holding services in the face of enraged Muslim mobs.
On the Indonesian island of Sulawesi Christian churches have long faced harassment and persecution at the hands of the Islamic majority. In recent weeks arsonists, suspected to be Islamic militants, have launched Molotov cocktails in early morning attacks against multiple Protestant churches.
In Indonesia, radical Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front are often responsible for conducting protests and even attacks against Christian churches. Today members of the Islamic Defenders Front staged a peaceful protest demanding the closure of a large Catholic church with approximately 6,000 members. A law passed in 2006 requiring churches to obtain building permits is often used as a pretext for demanding churches close or relocate. These permits are almost impossible to obtain and are often blocked by Islamic leaders.
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