09/17/2010, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Jakarta to review laws on religious freedom to guarantee Christian rights

by Mathias Hariyadi
The authorities announce changes to a joint ministerial decree ((nº8 of 2006 and nº9 of 2009) after minorities engage in protest following the latest violent episodes against the Christian community. West Java governor pledges a “permanent” place of worship for the HKBP Church and its members.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesian authorities will review the laws that regulate freedom of religion in the country. They will especially vet a controversial joint ministerial decree (nº8 of 2006 and nº9 of 2009), Senior Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto said at the end of day marked by street protests and a torchlight procession against recent anti-Christian violence.

“The existing decree will be revised,” Djoko Suyanto said. In its existing form, it delegates the power to issue building permits for places of worship to individual regencies (districts). This has led to discrimination towards Christians who face increasing difficulties when they apply because the law is enforced by local authorities, often controlled by Muslim extremists. Muslims, on the other hand, do not face such problems.

The debate over religious freedom in Indonesia was revived by recent episodes of anti-Christian violence. Last Monday, unknown assailants stabbed Rev Afian Sihombing, a Protestant clergyman who heads a Protestant community in East Pondonk Bekasi Regency. He was attacked along with Rev Luspida Simanjutak, head of the Huria Batak Kristen Protestan (HKBP). She too was injured, to the face, the head and the back.

Yesterday, hundreds of human rights activists took part in a torchlight procession, spontaneously joined by thousands of people.

Inavah Wahid, daughter of the late President Abdurrahman Wahid, said, “We are all one nation and we strongly and endlessly struggle for the unity of the nation.”  Now, events show that the “situation is getting worse” and that “the state appears to be powerless and unable to perform its duties.”

In order to defuse tensions that are mounting in some sectors of civil society, West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan told HKBP members that they would have a “permanent” place to worship.

Bekasi Mayor Mochtar Muhammad said that city hall would provide them with two possible venues for their Church: a 2.500 m2 lot owned by the city administration or a 2,000 m2 lot owned by a private company that the city would buy for the Church. This way, according to the mayor, “security would be guaranteed.”

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