Islamic Tolerance Alert: The Indonesian year-in-review. “Religious Freedom Curtailed as Government Bows to Pressure,” by Muninggar Sri Saraswati for the Jakarta Post, December 31:
Religious freedom in Indonesia took a few steps back in 2008 as the government buckled under pressure from both mainstream and minority hard-line Muslim groups, to the detriment of minority organizations.
One of the most high-profile cases was the bid, led by the Islam Defenders Front, or FPI, in October to ban the Islamic Ahmadiyah sect, which resulted in a joint ministerial decree ordering the group to restrict its religious activities.
The decision was taken despite FPI threats to use violence against minority religious groups, including the destruction of mosques and houses belonging to Ahmadiyah followers. Religious intolerance came to a head in June when the FPI ambushed a peaceful rally organized by the National Alliance for the Freedom of Faith and Religion at the National Monument park, or Monas, in Central Jakarta.
Although FPI Chairman Habib Rizieq was later sentenced to 18 months in prison, the government decree means that Ahmadiyah members face legal prosecution if they fully practice their faith.
Prior to the decree, Ahmadiyah followers were able to follow their beliefs peacefully, even though the Indonesia Ulema Council, or MUI, declared Ahmadiyah heretical in 2005.
Ahmadiyah members, unlike mainstream Islamic groups, believe its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is the last prophet “” rather than Muhammad.
Another minority sect, the Kingdom of Eden, led by Lia Eden, has been targeted by Muslim groups for tainting the teachings of what they say is “pure” Islam.
Lia was arrested by the police on Dec. 15 for releasing an edict that claimed major religions should cease to exist.
Following the demands of thousands of Muslims, the police charged her with blasphemy.
Lia, who claims to be the Holy Spirit, God’s messenger Gabriel and a reincarnation of the Virgin Mary, was previously sentenced to two years in jail in 2006 on the same charge. She was found guilty of distributing books and video compact discs of her teachings, which were considered by some to be irreverent toward Islam.
Ahmadiyah was not the only target. The National Commission on Human Rights, or Komnas HAM, has documented violent and discriminative acts against other minority religious groups, such as Jamaah Al-Qiyadah, the Tani Mulya Church and the Dayeuh Kolot Christian Church.
However, Komnas HAM said it was most concerned about the general decline in religious freedom in the country through the enactment of laws and bylaws by the central and regional governments that show a total disregard for minority religious groups and national diversity.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono approved the vaguely worded anti-pornography bill in late November, despite continuing opposition from several provinces, ethnic groups, rights activists and pluralist organizations which claim it could allow majority groups to use violence and intimidation against minorities.
Regional-level bylaws to implement the spirit of sharia have also been seen as a threat to religious diversity in the country.
The Ministry of Home Affairs is currently reviewing 37 Sharia-based bylaws in force in several regions across the country, many of which are considered discriminatory and to violate existing laws.
Ifdhal Kasim, who chairs Komnas HAM, said that “the discrimination inherent in the bylaws threaten the basic freedom of a number of minority groups in Indonesia.”
“Ironically, the state tends to let these things happen by omission or, in some cases, by criminalizing the victims,” he said.
“Indonesia was founded on the spirit of diversity,” he said. “We should not forget that.”