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INDONESIA : RELIGIOUS LIBERTY CRUMBLING

– appeal to Constitutional Court denied

– Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) No 1, 1969, reviewed.

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Elizabeth Kendal WEA

A joint ministerial decree issued in Indonesia in 1969 established guidelines for religious groups wanting to build places of worship.

Religious groups had to apply for a permit, but a local council could only grant a permit if locals living in the immediate vicinity of the proposed church, mosque or temple gave their consent. In practice, this made it difficult for non-Muslims to receive a permit to construct a place of worship, particularly in strongly Muslim districts. This in turn created a burgeoning house-fellowship movement, whereby unregistered fellowships meet for prayer and worship in homes, offices or shops.

The growth of radical, fundamentalist, political and militant Islam in Indonesia through the 1990s and especially since October 2001 has given rise to a campaign of intolerance against apostasy and church proliferation. Apostasy and Christian expansion were key issues at the annual national meeting of the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI:

Indonesia ‘s most senior body of Islamic clerics), in Jakarta in July 2005. Clerics complained that Christianity was making “worrying inroads” and that Christian preachers were converting Muslims at “an alarming rate”, while the “phenomenon” of church construction was “most disturbing”. The MUI subsequently issued an 11-point fatwa that, among other things, describes liberal interpretations of Islam, secularism and pluralism as being against Islam.

The fatwas and the MUI’s relationship with the Anti-Apostasy Movement Alliance (AGAP) led to a surge in Islamic fundamentalist and militant activity against Christian ministries and churches. In September 2005 three Christian women, Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun, were imprisoned in West Java after being found guilty of “Christianisation” of Muslim children (introducing Christianity to Muslim children) For background see: WEA RLC

” Indonesia : Removing enticements to apostasy” 2 Sept 2005 <http://www.evangelicalalliance.org.au/rlc/WEADetail.php?ID=510>.

Islamist clerics decried the women’s Sunday School ministry as “incitement to apostasy”. Meanwhile, dozens of fellowships and churches have been forced to close under threat of violence.

WATERSHED OPPORTUNITIES

These two situations – the convictions against Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun, plus the forced church closures – actually provided the Indonesian government with watershed opportunities to address Indonesia ‘s vulnerable and threatened religious liberty status.

Firstly, the convictions against the three Christian women gave rise to a legal challenge in the Constitutional Court whereby it was hoped to demonstrate that the convictions against Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun were contrary to Indonesian’s Constitution (Article 28E) and Human Rights Law No. 39/1999 (Article 22).

Secondly, the dramatic and violent wave of intimidation unleashed on churches resulting in the closure of many, led to calls for Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) No 1, 1969, to be reviewed, preferably scrapped.

These were watershed opportunities through which the Indonesian government could have made a historic stand for true religious liberty and progress from a position of Islamic protectionism with concessions to a position of endorsing fundamental human rights and the principle of liberty. Unfortunately the government is failing, coming down on the dark side of repressive protectionist Islam rather than on the side of the free modern world. This will be retrogressive for Indonesia and will take persecution of the Church to a new level.

APPEAL DENIED

In February 2006, Indonesia ‘s Constitutional Court rejected a legal challenge to the charges against Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun, ruling instead that they will remain in prison and serve their sentences. A panel of nine Constitutional Court judges deemed that the plaintiff, Rev. Ruyandi Hutasoit, had no right to appeal for a legal review, and that the Child Protection Law, which rules that people found guilty of persuading children to convert to another religion are subject to five years in jail and/or a Rp 100 million (around US$11,000) fine, is not in conflict with the Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion.

REVIEW COMPLETE

The review of Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) No 1, 1969, is complete. The government rejected appeals to scrap the decree, and instead came up with a joint regulation between the Religious Affairs Minister and the Home Affairs Minister on construction of houses of worship that has won the support of the Indonesian Ulemas Council.

AKI reports: “The revised version maintains the basic requirement of the original decree, but defines specific prerequisites. It mandates the establishment of the Communication Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB), consisting of representatives of all religious faiths, to review requests for permits to build places of worship and then provide recommendations to the local government.

“The minimum number of congregation members for a proposed house of worship is set at 100, and the plan should be approved by at least 70 local residents of other faiths.” (Link 1)

Asia News explains that permits will be issued by local government upon consultation with the Communication Forums for Religious Harmony and the local branch of the Religious Affairs Ministry. The forum will vet applications and advise local authorities on granting permits. (Link 2)

All groups currently meeting without permits in homes, offices or shops, must seek a permit, although the requirements that a fellowship must have 100 members and 70 approvals from non-Christian locals, will be beyond the reach of many.

The revised decree has been submitted to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and only awaits his approval to become law.

FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS REDUCED TO CONCESSIONS

According to AKI, Theophilus Bela, the secretary-general of the Indonesian Committee on Religion and Peace (ICRP), urged the government to revoke the joint ministerial decree because, he said, it was responsible for attacks against churches. “‘The joint ministerial decree is against the Pancasila state ideology and 1945 Constitution, as well as human rights. It isn’t just but instead has the potential to tear apart religious harmony and limit people from worshiping,’ he said.” (Link 1)

But the Religious Affairs Minister and the Home Affairs Minister, have, like the Constitutional Court judges, failed to uphold the principle that religious liberty (as defined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) is a fundamental human right.

Rather, Indonesian policy appears to be that Islam will be protected, Islamists will be appeased, and the right to worship will be reduced to a concession subject to the whim of locals who are increasingly under the intimidating influence of intolerant, pro-Sharia Islamist preachers and militants.

Elizabeth Kendal

rl-research@crossnet.org.au

Links

1) Christian minority wary of rules to set up places of worship.

Jakarta, 20 Feb 2006. (AKI/Jakarta Post) http://www.adnki.com/index_2Level_English.php?cat=Religion&loid=8.0.267165997&par=

2) Changing rules for building churches (Overview) 8 March 2006

http://asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=5584