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Unfortunately, the Ahmadiyah are not the only ones to offend the religious sensibilities of the FPI and other Muslim groups. Christians have also seen a dramatic escalation of discrimination and violence launched against them.
In 2011 alone, the Indonesian Community of Churches reported at least 20 churches were forced to suspend services due to mob threats and government intervention, with scores more torched and vandalized.
Unfortunately, replacing a destroyed church or building a new one is highly problematic as Indonesian law requires that construction of a new church must have the support of 60 percent of a community’s residents, an often impossible task for Christians who make up less than nine percent of Indonesia’s total population.
In one notable example, local authorities in Bogor, a suburb of the capital city of Jakarta, have prevented the Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) from moving into a new building for over two years despite a ruling from Indonesia’s Supreme Court that the church be unsealed.
Yet, Bogor’s mayor, Diani Budiarto, has refused to comply with the order and has recently come up with a new excuse for not opening the church, reasoning that the street the church was built on has an Islamic name and is thus an offense to Muslims.
Unfortunately, the Indonesian government has refused to intervene in the case. According to Indonesia’s Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi, “this is the political reality in the field and it could cause disturbances to security and peace. It would not be healthy in the long run, even for the congregation members themselves.”
Unfortunately, Fauzi’s concern for Christian well-being is well-placed as Muslim intolerance has grown more overt. It’s a trend perhaps best expressed in June 2010, at the second Bekasi Islamic Congress in Bekasi, West Java, when Muslims were instructed to form Islamic paramilitary forces in readiness for a jihad against Christians.
Another more recent example of that intolerance occurred in February 2011 when a Christian man accused of blasphemy for distributing pamphlets that apparently insulted Islam received a sentence of five years in prison. However, a mob of over 1,000 Muslims, believing the verdict required a death sentence, went on a rampage, storming the courthouse and setting several local Christian churches on fire.
Yet, despite Muslims making up over ninety percent of Indonesia’s 240 million citizens, the Indonesian government insists it is committed to promoting religious tolerance, citing its constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion.
Instead, some have laid the blame for the rise in religious intolerance squarely at the doorstep of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Critics say that because Yudhoyono relies on the support of Islamic parties in parliament, he has been reluctant to condemn or act upon religiously-motivated violence and thus has emboldened the FPI and other Islamist groups.
While Yudhoyono hasn’t been a profile in courage in dealing with the issue, others say it is the Indonesian government’s own laws and its selective enforcement that are actually fueling the continued harassment and persecution of religious minorities.
Specifically, Indonesia’s blasphemy law grants local governments the freedom to charge and detain members of religious minorities that are considered deviant. In fact, in April 2010 Indonesia’s Supreme Court ruled that that it was constitutional to ban religious groups that “distort” or “misrepresent” official faiths.
While Indonesia officially recognizes six religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism) in practice, the blasphemy law is applied primarily to perceived offenses against Islam.
Unfortunately, the punishment for those offenses, whether carried out by the Indonesian government or by an enraged mob, can be quite severe. As he lingers alone in his jail cell, it’s a fact Deden Sudjana understands all too well.
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