Widodo tells Protestant leaders he supports religious freedom against extremism
by Mathias Hariyadi

Indonesia’s president met the leaders of the Synod of Protestant Churches (PGI) to discuss the growing threats that endanger "tolerance, peace and unity". Widodo reassured them that the state is not "passive" towards radical groups as it was in the past.


Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The Indonesia government will not remain passive, as it has in the past, with respect to attacks, acts of violence or claims by extremist (Muslim) groups who seek to sow divisions and cause clashes among Indonesia’s various groups, this according to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.

The Indonesian president spoke to representatives of the Indonesian Synod of Protestant Churches (PGI) in a private meeting held to discuss trends that are endangering the country’s "spirit of tolerance, peace and unity in diversity” (Ind: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika).

PGI President Rev Henrietta Lebang, PGI General Secretary Rev Gomar Gultom, and Rev Albertus Patty took part in yesterday’s tête-à-tête with Widodo.

Afterwards the Christian delegation said it was satisfied with the concerns shown by the president about the problem, which has recently gotten worse as evinced by some controversial incidents.

One involves Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja ‘Ahok’ Purnama who is on trial alleged blasphemy charges.

Another refers to the forced transfer of a local official in Bantul after he was targeted by Islamic extremists who do not want a Catholic in a position of authority in a predominantly Muslim area.

More recently, indigenous Dayak in West Kalimantan organised a protest, and prevented a top official with the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) from getting off the plane that had brought him to the area.

President Widodo confirmed that the authorities would not remain silent vis-à-vis what is happening, Rev Lebang told AsiaNews, as it has in the past when "previous administrations did nothing".

Mr Widodo noted that the radical ideology of some groups, like the notorious Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), "was favoured by some political parties" that pushed fundamentalism for electoral advantage.

"Any mass organisation that promotes intolerance in society will be prosecuted in accordance with the law," the president explained.  No one should think that the state is "silent or, worse, scared" by these elements who sow divisions and cause violence.”

Last week, police in Bandung informed FPI leader Rizieq Shihab that he was under investigation in connection with events last year when he allegedly showed disrespect for Pancasila, the founding principle of the Indonesian state, and directly attacked the local Christian community.

For several months, the Islamic leader has led the attack against Jakarta’s Christian governor for allegedly blaspheming Islam. However, in a rare role reversal, the radical Islamist has been charged in a blasphemy case against Christianity and its followers when, together with the FPI, he organised several mass demonstrations to demand the governor’s conviction. 

"I appreciate the efforts shown by the Indonesian president in favour of the nation,” said Rev Lebang, “not only in terms of rights”.

Despite the global recession, he has pursued “economic growth, infrastructural projects, efficiency in public spending, reducing the so-called ‘red economy’ that had pushed in Indonesia into recession.”

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