12/12/2013, 00.00
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Society against the government over religion on ID papers

by Mathias Hariyadi
Parliament's decision to include holder's religious affiliation in identity papers sparks widespread criticism. For many, the inclusion will lead to persecution and abuse, especially of those who do not belong to any of the recognised faiths. According to research by the Setara Institute, the Ahmadi sect has endured the most with 46 attacks out of 122 incidents recorded in the first six months of 2013.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Civil society groups are up in arms against the government's decision to add religion to identity card On 26 November, in fact, parliament passed a law that officially recognises six religious groups: Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists and Confucians.

The latter group was re-introduced in 2006 during President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's first terms of office following the patient work of his predecessor, Abdurrahman 'Gus Dur' Wahid, who was able to mitigate decades of hatred and resentment against Indonesia's Chinese community and culture.

Anyone not fitting this six-group division has to choose 'other', but this would expose them to attacks and "more or less" open discrimination. According to the decision's critics, the rule represents a "major obstacle" to the country's democratisation.

In the recent past, Indonesia has seen a rise in sectarian and confessional attacks against individuals and communities at the hands of the state, extremist groups and isolated fanatics. In each case, the violence was due to the fact that the victim was not a member "of our group".

For ordinary Indonesians, avoiding any reference to religion in their ID papers would have serious consequences because it could be construed as being "atheist", the worst thing that could happen to anyone. In fact, in Indonesia, the lack of references to God is immediately associated with Communism, which is so much hated by the country's rulers as it is by large segments of the population because of the bloody events of 1965.

On September 30 of that year, when Sukarno was president, high ranking army officers were attacked and several generals are killed. The incident was blamed on members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). In 1967, when General Suharto took over (holding power until 1998), Chinese culture and the "religion" (Confucianism) of Sino-Indonesians were banned.

In the past, AsiaNews has reported on cases of discrimination and actual targeted attacks against people who are openly atheist, like the case of an Indonesian who came close to going to prison and receiving heavy corporal punishment because he wrote on his Facebook profile that he did not believe in God.

In Poso (Central Sulawesi) and Ambon (Maluku), which have experienced sectarian strife in the past, ID cards showing a person's religion could be a matter of life or death. Here, religious affiliation could lead to immediate execution by armed gangs that often man checkpoints.

In an attempt to allay concerns, the government through Interior Minister Gamawan Fauzi said that anyone who does not belong to any of the cited groups is not required to fill out that particular section.

Critics have countered saying the authorities, extremist groups and fanatics have used it as a pretext for attacking people. This is why it would be preferable to get rid of the religious section from ID cards altogether.

A recent study published by the Setara Institute shows that the Ahmadi Muslim minority is the most persecuted group in the country. Ahmadis are considered heretical by mainstream Islam because they do not regard Muhammad as the last Prophet.

Out 122 incidents of violence recorded in Indonesia in the first six months of 2013, at least 46 cases involved Ahmadis; 25 attacks were against Protestants, 12 against Shias and five against the Catholic community.

However, what is most surprising is that out of 122 incidents and 160 cases of "sectarian violence the state was responsible in at least 23 of them," thus failing in its duty to guarantee religious freedom and protect minorities in accordance with the Constitution.

Members of the notorious Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) were involved in ten of those attacks whilst unknown assailants were responsible in another 35.

At the local level, the situation is getting worrisome in West Java, the most "intolerant" province in terms of sectarian violence with 61 cases. Another 18 were recorded in East Java and ten more in metro Jakarta.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Sunni Muslim nation (86 per cent of the population professes Islam). Protestants represent about 5.7 per cent of the population; Catholics are just over 3 per cent; 1, 8 per cent are Hindu and 3.4 per cent belong to other religions.

Although the state officially upholds basic personal freedoms in its constitution (including freedom of religion), the country has increasingly become the scene of violence and abuse against minorities.

Aceh is the only province in the Archipelago where Islamic law is enforced, but more radical and extreme versions of Islam are affecting the lives of residents in many other areas.

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