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ICC Note:
In the face of ongoing, international protests in opposition, Indonesian President Yudhoyono accepted the World Statesman Award—an honor annually bestowed upon heads of state thought to be representative of religious tolerance and supportive of peaceful interfaith dialogue—as conferred by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation (ACF), an interfaith organization based out of New York Thursday night. Yudhoyono’s nomination for and acceptance of the award sparked outrage from international religious freedom and human rights advocates who note increasing persecution in Indonesia, including the forced closure of more than 50 churches and over 260 violent attacks against Christians and other religious minorities, in 2012 alone, in addition to a reported 430 attacks on Christian churches throughout Yudhoyono’s presidency.
06/01/2013 Indonesia (Christian Science Monitor) – Despite a rise in religiously-motivated violence at home, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono addressed a wealthy crowd at New York’s Pierre hotel on Thursday night and accepted an award from an interfaith group for his work promoting religious freedom and human rights.
The [World Statesman] award came from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith group founded by Rabbi Arthur Schneier that aims to “promote peace, tolerance, and ethnic conflict resolution.” Past recipients include British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who handed the award to Yudhoyono on Thursday.
But human rights groups say the award sends the wrong message: That all is well in Indonesia, a majority-Muslim democracy long viewed as a model of religious tolerance that has faltered of late.
In recent years Islamic hardliners belonging to Indonesia’s Sunni majority have attacked Christians, Shiites, and the Ahmadiyah, a Muslim sect persecuted globally for beliefs that diverge from the mainstream.
More than 430 churches have been attacked since 2004, and at least 30 Ahmadiyah mosques have been shuttered since 2008. The Jakarta-based Setara Institute, which monitors religious freedom in Indonesia, reported 264 cases of attacks on religious minorities in 2012, up from 216 in 2010.
Human rights groups say the authorities have stood idle when such violence occurs, sometimes even offering tacit or open support of laws that curb the freedom to worship.
In 2006 the government passed a ministerial decree that has prevented Christian groups from opening churches. An anti-Ahmadiyah decree passed in 2008 prohibits the Ahmadiyah from propagating their faith on pain of a five-year prison term. Local governments have interpreted the decree as a ban on the Ahmadiyah’s activities.
And while Indonesia’s constitution enshrines the right to freedom of religion, the government only legally recognizes six faiths – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism.
The Appeal of Conscience Foundation has not addressed the protests, but at the dinner on Thursday Schneier acknowledged that Yudhoyono’s work was “not complete.” The president, too, acknowledged that Indonesia still has problems with intolerance, but said his country served as a strong voice for moderation.
“Indonesia is an example to the world that democracy, Islam, and modernity can live in positive symbiosis,” Yudhoyono said, according to a tweet from Indonesian Ambassador to the US, Dino Patti Djalal.
That may be one reason global leaders continue to hail Indonesia.
“It is important for Indonesians to be successful because the world is watching,” Suzan Johnson Cook, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, told the English-language Jakarta Globe last week.
Her comments came just as the US State Department released its annual report on religious freedom, which expresses concern about rising religious intolerance in Indonesia.
Yudhoyono’s critics admit that Indonesia has come a long way in the 15 years since autocrat Suharto gave up power. Since becoming president in 2004 Yudhoyono has overseen the signing of a peace agreement that ended a 30-year separatist battle in Aceh and the country has achieved record economic growth and political stability.
But the president has also laid down the “legal infrastructure” that allows groups to discriminate against minorities, and much of that discrimination and violence has gone unpunished, said Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher for Human Rights Watch, which released a report in February that blamed the Indonesian government for failing to protect the country’s religious minorities from growing religious intolerance and violence.

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