Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Indonesian government continues to ignore the discrimination and violence endured by religious minorities, this according to Jayadi Damanik, coordinator for the Religion and Faith Desk of the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM*).
Mr Damanik slams Indonesia’s central government for turning a “blind eye" when religious and other minorities are victims of abuses and for failing to repeal local discriminatory regulations. In his view, the central authorities are constitutionally responsible to uphold religious freedom, not local administrations.
"Local authorities are the worst violators of religious freedom,” he explained. “They tend to work for their personal goals and political interests. The existence of discriminatory regulations shows the weakness of the central government when it comes to monitor local governments.”
According to the Setara Institute, an Indonesia-based human rights advocacy group, Indonesia has 57 laws that discriminate against religious minorities and endanger pluralism in the country.
This has led to open discrimination. For example, in Bogor, West Java, the mayor last October banned the Shia festival of Ashura.
One of the most egregious cases of violation of religious freedom involves the GKI** Taman Yasmin Church, also in Bogor, which had its building permit revoked in 2008 following protests by Islamists.
Last October, in Aceh, a group of Muslims attacked Christian churches and set fire to two of them because they claimed that latter did not have a building permit.
According Jayadi Damanik, the government could end all these violations, but “it considers the matter a local issue and turns a blind eye on religious intolerance".
For Choirul Anam, director of the Human Right Working Group (HRWG), the application process for building permits in the case of places of worship indirectly discriminates against minorities.
At present, applying for a building permit involving a church requires the signature of at least 99 worshipers and the support of at least 60 residents and local chief in the area where the new place of worship is supposed to be build.
Last week, because of the violence, Indonesia’s Interior Minister announced plans to change building permit regulations. "It is my personal opinion that the number of signatures should be reduced, if not eliminated altogether,” he said.
* Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia, usually abbreviated to Komnas HAM.
** Gereja Kristen Indonesia, i.e. Indonesian Christian Church.