02/10/2010, 00.00
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In Indonesia, religious freedom only exists on paper

by Mathias Hariyadi
Strong protest Mgr. Pujasumarta, secretary of the local bishops' conference, during a meeting between members of parliament and religious leaders. Complaints of frequent violations of religious freedom, with threats and churches closed by Islamist groups which go unchecked by local authorities.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Indonesia has failed to ensure its people religious freedom, as also envisaged by the Ministerial Decrees numbers 8 and 9 of 2006 on the duty of local authorities to secure the right and freedom to adopt any religion. In reality, the Muslim majority tyrannize the minority religions. This is the stark reminder of Msgr. Johannes Pujasumarta, Bishop of West Java and secretary general of the Indonesian Bishops' Conference.

Yesterday evening the bishop, with leaders of other minority groups, met with the Indonesian Parliament to present them with this difficult situation. Mons. Pujasumarta reminded the lawmakers of the many Christian and Catholic churches that have been burned or closed down by force from Islamic extremist groups and how the Muslim majority "exerts its pressure to create serious problems for minority groups to implement the right to practice of their religious faith”. He mentioned the most recent "incidents" in Belasi and Purwakarta in West Java and Sumatra Padang Lawas in northern Sumatra, where churches have been forcibly closed by from Islamic extremist groups and local authorities together with the pretext that the buildings were built without authorization (called: izin Mendirikan Bangunan, IMB).  

Ministerial decrees numbers 8 and 9 of 2006 instruct local authorities to ensure interfaith harmony. But the bishop stresses that "many local authorities are easy targets for extremist groups ... they asily succumb to their pressure and accommodate their demands".  How in October the chief regent Dedi Mulyadi revoked the previous IMB from Saint Mary parish church in the District of Purwakarta, , yielding to strong pressure from the Islamic Defender Front group.

The approval of two decrees in 2006 had been greeted, especially in Catholic circles, as a happy solution to the problem of religious intolerance. Years later, the bishop noted, "their non-application".

The meeting was attended by Protestant groups, including the Synod of Christian Churches in Indonesia and the Synod of Protestant Churches Huria Batak, who have also witnessed frequent attacks by radical Islamic groups and a boycott of the authorities who do not protect them and sometimes do not even respond to requests for the release of the IMB. Their churches have also been closed, forcing the faithful to gather on the street.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Mgr. Pujasumarta insists that the country has the legal means to protect the rights of minorities, but that "in reality the norm is sometimes forgotten or even denied" by local authorities. "If I think of the latest violence against churches, I am concerned that this will increase sectarian spirit ", unhindered by weak and easily influenced local authorities.

Sugiarto, a member of the group that defends the rights of the church St. Mary of Purwakarta, noted that now the Christians are waiting for Parliament to concretely sees their rights are upheld.

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