06/18/2011, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Central Java, Justice held in check only one year for imam who ordered attack on three churches

by Mathias Hariyadi
In February Syihabudin, religious leader in Temanggung, incited 1500 Muslims against the local Christian community. Sentences of between 4 and 5 months for some accomplices. The violence triggered by an alleged case of blasphemy. Moderates see judicial system in favor of Muslims. Government and police helpless against the extremist groups.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The moderate Indonesian population is in shock after the lenient sentence of one year prison for Syihabudin, the imam responsible for the attacks against Christians that took place on February 8 in Temanggung (Central Java). Indonesian English-language newspapers published the criticisms of many readers regarding the ruling, which could be reduced, taking into account the months the religious leader has already served. 25 other people suspected of involvement, were tried and sentenced to between 4 and 5 months.

"The independence of the Indonesian court is not in question - says one reader - yet no one condemns those judges who do not respect the values of the Pancasilla (the five guiding principles of the state, which guarantees religious freedom and social justice for all - ed) and fail to take into account the equality of all citizens. " Another citizen points out: "Syihabuddin only got one year in prison. Who says the system is tilted in favor of Muslims?”.

On February 8 Syihabudin has incited a crowd of 1,500 Muslims to protest against the sentence of five years in prison for blasphemy of Antonius Richmond Bawengan, a Christian born in Manado (North Sulawesi), claiming he deserved the death penalty. Within hours, thousands of extremists led by Syihabudin have destroyed three Roman Catholic churches, an orphanage and a Protestant church (see AsiaNews 08/02/2011 Central Java: Thousands of Muslims attack three churches, an orphanage and a Christian centre).The police, who arrived in small numbers, failed to placate the crowd, which beat and injured several Christians.

Theophilus Bela, activist and promoter of interreligious dialogue, said that "despite the religious freedom allowed Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the police forces 'sleep' when it comes to defending minorities against attacks by Islamic extremists." According to him, the government and security forces so far have shown no actions severe enough to disrupt the groups that promote Islamic slogans and commit violence against Christians. "The riots that occurred in Temanggung - he says - are a clear example of how the Indonesian government is powerless in the face of these radical groups. "

Bela also adds that the mild sentence against Syihabuddin demonstrates the fragility of the judicial system, which now fears the pressures of the strongest social groups.
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