06/13/2013, 00.00
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Extremists attack a peaceful Muslim-Christian conference in Surabaya

by Mathias Hariyadi
Members of the Islamic Defenders Front stopped an interfaith meeting by force. The images caught on video were posted on YouTube. Complicit with the violent protesters, police detain event organisers. Orthodox Christian activist notes the conference had the right permits, bemoans rising intolerance.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - A group of extremists from to the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) stormed a Christian-Muslim conference on religious freedom and peaceful coexistence between the two faiths, disrupting its activities. The raid, which took place on Tuesday afternoon, was due to the fact that the meeting, planned initially for a public venue, was underway in a place of worship owned by the Diocese of Surabaya (East Java). Christian activists noted that the police did not intervene to fend off the attack, showing a complicit attitude towards the extremist group, confirming a growing climate of intolerance in the country.

A video taken with a mobile phone and posted on YouTube (click here to view) shows the Islamist group attacking an organiser of the event at the front desk, as he welcomed arrivals.

In the days leading up to the meeting, police warned organisers against holding the event, asking them to cancel it because the issues it addressed, like better "relations between Christians and Muslims", were too sensitive.

Members of 'Gus Dur' groups were among those who sponsored the meeting. They are followers of the late former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, also known as Gus Dur, an iconic figure in the country's human rights community, and a man who promoted peaceful coexistence in the country.

Christian and Muslim activists from Surabaya and Sampang (Madura Island) were expected to participate in the event as well.

Towards the end of the conference, which was going smoothly, FPI militants led by a local branch chief stormed the assembly, interrupted its activities and threatened all those present despite the fact that it had all the necessary permits. In Indonesia, public gatherings require a permit from police.

Bambang Noorsena, an Orthodox Christian who spoke at the conference, told AsiaNews that "the permits were in order," but on the day of the conference, police cancelled them.

The meeting's aim was to "improve Muslim-Christian relations", but police showed partisan behaviour that left the field open to the attackers.

In fact, police later detained meeting organisers and kept them in custody for several hours. By contrast, no action was taken against the members of the Islamist group, who were able to go home unhindered.

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