07/07/2014, 00.00
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Christian leaders: religious freedom at risk if Subianto wins presidential elections

by Mathias Hariyadi

Concerns over the political manifesto of the former general’s Gerindra Party, that would pave the way for state interference in religion. The government "obliged" to verify the application of religious freedom. Minorities at risk, particularly Ahmadis, Shias, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. Subianto also supported by radical Islamist wing.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - A few days before the vote in the presidential elections in Indonesia, scheduled on July 9, Christian leaders - Catholics and Protestants - are concerned by the possible "totalitarian" interference of the state should former general Subianto win. The main contenders are  the couple formed by the governor of Jakarta Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Deputy Jusuf Kalla, former number two of the current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's first term, and the Gen. Prabowo Subianto and vice-Hatta Radjasa.

Polls put the first pair slightly ahead, but the game is open and could go down to the last vote. Concerns are being raised by the "Manifesto" of the former general's Gerindra Party, published last April. It contains two "sensitive" and "controversial" elements linked to a "state power" to ban "illegal" religious teachings that conflict with "common sense" and the "official" language of religions recognized by the state.

The alarm is being raised by people such as the Jesuit professor and academic Fr. Franz Magnis-Suseno and the chairman of the Indonesian Christian Synod Rev. Andreas Yewangoe. The political manifesto of the Gerindra Party states in principle that "the state guarantees freedom of religion," but the government is "politically and socially obligated to see how this freedom is put into practise". And it is always the responsibility of the executive and of the state institutions "to ensure the purity of the recognized religions" in an official capacity - Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Kong Hu Cu / Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism - from any "aspect of heresy or blasphemy".

Fr. Magnis-Suseno has strongly criticized the guidelines set out by the presidential candidate and his party.  He also sounded the alarm about the intrusion of the state into a personal and delicate sphere like religion and the free practice of worship. The German-born Jesuit is also alarmed by extremist and pro-Islamic parties' support for coalition led by Subianto, which makes a possible state intervention in matters of faith even more disturbing.

The hypothetical Subitanto administration would have the power to suppress all religious minorities who are not in line with the "official groups," including the Ahmadi Muslim sect already the subject of persecution in Indonesia, the Shiites, and among Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons.

The Jesuit priest, who last year had criticized the awarding of a pro human rights prize to President Yudhoyono, says these proposed norms are in direct opposition to the Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution, the founding principles of the State that guarantee and protect religious freedom.

Among the most controversial figures who support the Subianto candidacy is the current Minister for Religious Affairs and leader of the United Development Party Suryadharma Ali, who in recent years has repeatedly expressed opinions hostile to Ahmadis and other smaller communities. Then there are the Islamists of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) known to support an extreme view of Islam and with links to the Arab world, such as promoting the veil for women and beards for men.

His concern is shared by Reverend Andreas Yewangoe, president of the Christian Synod of Indonesia (PGI), who has roundly condemned Gerindra's political manifesto because "it is not the duty of the State to control the 'purity' of a religion". He does not even spare criticism for the outgoing administration of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has done nothing to stop discrimination or persecution against Ahmadis, Shias and other minorities.

Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world. Catholics are a small minority of about seven million people, or 3 per cent of the population. In the Archdiocese of Jakarta, the faithful reach 3.6 per cent of the population. Although the constitution recognises religious freedom, Catholics have been the victims of violence and abuse, especially in areas where extremist visions of Islam are entrenched, like Aceh.


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