Protesters take to the streets to demand government revoke decree
Jakarta Post - September 17, 2010 -- Hundreds of people joined two rallies in Jakarta on Thursday demanding the government revoke the 2006 Joint Ministerial Decree on Places of Worship as it resulted many interfaith conflicts.
"This decree has provided a justification to prohibit Indonesians from worshipping, with the majority being allowed to decide whether minorities can be granted licenses for their houses of worship," Marinus Yosafat, the head of the South Jakarta branch of the Association of Catholic Students of the Republic of Indonesia (PMKRI), told The Jakarta Post during a demonstration in front of National Police headquarters in South Jakarta.
The protest drew around 200 people, including activists from the Setara Institute, the Indonesian Human Rights and Legal Aid Association, the Christian Youth Movement of Indonesia, and the Association of Indonesian Muslim Students.
Marinus said the decree fanned the flames of many interfaith conflicts in Indonesia, saying it stipulated that any new house of worship had to have the support of at least 90 members of the congregation and 60 local residents of different faiths.
On Thursday night, 400 members of the Forum for Religious Freedom and Solidarity joined the "thousand candle" rally voicing the same demands at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in Central Jakarta.
Members of the forum -- which included activists from human rights and pluralism groups such as the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), the Bhinneka Tunggal Ika National Alliance Forum (ANBTI) and the Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam), public figures, and religious leaders -- also waved Indonesian flags.
The daughter of former president Abdurrahman Wahid, Inayah Wahid, and legislator Budiman Sudjatmiko gave speeches on religious freedom. They argued that the decree -- signed by the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Home Ministry -- made it difficult for religious minorities to establish houses of worship, violating their constitutional rights.
The rallies were triggered by attacks on HKBP Pondok Timur Indah church elders Hasian Lumbantoruan Sihombing and Rev. Luspida Simandjuntak in Ciketing, Bekasi, on Sunday -- the culmination of a long-smoldering conflict between the church and local Muslims.
Police arrested 10 suspects in the attack, including the head of the Bekasi branch of the hard-line Islam Defenders Front, Murharli Barda.
An attorney for the suspects, Shalih Manggara Sitompul, said he would try to bail them out. "Three of them are minors and their arrest only worsens the situation," he said, claiming two of the suspects suffered injuries during their attack.
Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Boy Rafli Amar said the suspects were vouching for each other. "We will question them further," Boy said, adding that the suspects insisted the church conducted religious activities without a license and that their attack on the congregation as they met on the street was spontaneous.
Commenting to the Post on criticism that the Bekasi Police chief was negligent in handling the incident, National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Marwoto Soeto blamed the HKBP congregation for providing unclear and incomplete information about the attack.
Marwoto added that the police were overwhelmed by such incidents. "On duty, officers are often confused. We don't want to take sides," he said. (ipa/not)