Jakarta (AsiaNews) – “I want to underline that any hostility, including destroying and burning any sacred religious symbol, is against the law and should be regarded as a violation of the latter. Inflicting physical violence on people from other different religious groups is not allowed,” said Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as he spoke about an attack against a Christian community.
Last Sunday, a group of assailants attacked Rev Afian Sihombing (pictured), head of a Christian community in East Pondonk Bekasi Regency. He was stabbed to the stomach and is in hospital in critical conditions. Rev Luspida Simanjutak, who along with the pastor heads the Huria Batak Kristen Protestan (HBKP), also injured during the attack, reported wounds to the face, head and back.
Initial reports indicate that the two religious were ambushed by Muslim fundamentalists who wanted to prevent their congregation from holding an open-air meeting.
The Indonesian president today met with Senior Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto and Police Chief General Bambang Hendarso Danuri to discuss solutions to one of the most sensitive issues now facing the country, namely the violation of religious freedom by Muslim extremist groups.
“Mr President wants fresh reports on how police handled the case,” presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha said. According to him, President Yudhoyono plans to hold close door meetings with some noted religious leaders to find a solution.
This decision probably comes in response to criticism from civil society groups who highlighted how he was slow in reacting to the anti-Christian attack, compared to his government’s speedy and tough response to Rev Terry Jones’ plan to burn the Qur‘an.
Online many people voiced similar criticism. “Your move to react over the Qur’an burning issue was highly appreciated, but why don’t you show the same reaction over violence against the Ahmadis and the HBKP?” Burhanuddin Muhtadi wrote.
Kiai Hajj Hasyim Muzadi, a former head of the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s moderate and largest Muslim organisation, said the same. To prove it, yesterday he went to see the victims of the Bekasi attack.
“The case is a very sensitive one. We strongly urge police force to handle the case with care and bring the assailants to justice,” he said. “The case shows Indonesia’s fragility and how great is the potential for intolerance.”
For Muzadi, the government should arrest controversial Muslim leader Abu Bakar Baasyir “as soon as possible” to minimise “inter-religious clashes in the country”.
Muhammadiyah, the country’s second largest Muslim organisation, also condemned the anti-Christian attack.
“We are deeply concerned over the incident. This taints the [right to] freedom of worship and practice one’s religious belief,” its president Din Syamsuddin said.
Fr Benny Susetyo, secretary of the Interfaith Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Indonesia (KWI), agrees. In his view, “such incident clearly shows how powerless Indonesia is to curb violence by certain hardliners.”