INDONESIA: CHRISTIANS CALL FOR REJECTION OF SHARIA-INSPIRED BILLS


Church leaders fear legislation will lead to religious intolerance; church, orphanage opposed.

JAKARTA, August 19 (Compass Direct News) – The Indonesian Council of Churches (PGI) has called for the rejection of two bills inspired by sharia (Islamic law).

The Halal Product Guarantee Bill and the Zakat Obligatory Alms Management Bill, both under consideration in the Indonesian parliament, cater to the needs of one religious group at the expense of others, violating Indonesia’s policy of pancasila or religious tolerance, said the Rev. Dr. A.A. Yewangoe, director of the PGI.

“National laws must be impartial and inclusive,” Yewangoe told Compass. “Since all laws are binding on all of the Indonesian people, they must be objective. Otherwise discrimination will result … The state has a duty to guard the rights of all its citizens, including freedom of religion.”

Dr. Lodewijk Gultom, head of PGI’s Law and Human Rights Department, pointed out that according to regulations on the formation of proposed laws, a bill cannot discriminate against any group of citizens. But the Halal product bill several times mentions sharia, as if Indonesia were an exclusively Muslim state, he said.

“If this bill is enforced, it will cause other religions to demand specific rights, and our sense of unity and common destiny will be lost,” Gultom said.

Gultom also said the bills were an attempt to resurrect the Jakarta Charter, a statement incorporated into Indonesia’s constitution in 1945 before it was quickly withdrawn. It declared that the newly-created state would be based on a belief in the one supreme God “with the obligation to live according to Islamic law for Muslims.”

Public opinion on the Jakarta Charter remains sharply divided, with some insisting that Islamic law is warranted because of the country’s Muslim majority, while others believe its implementation would disturb national unity.

Two members of Parliament, Constant Pongawa and Tiurlan Hutagaol, both from the Prosperous Peace Party, have requested the withdrawal of the Halal and Zakat bills to avoid creating conflict between Muslims and other religious groups.

“These bills are a step backward and will lead to the isolation of different religions,” agreed Ronald Naibaho, head of the North Sumatran chapter of the Indonesian Christian Youth Movement.

National church leaders have requested a meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to discuss the impact of these bills and a number of other discriminatory laws being applied at provincial levels across the country.

Church, Orphanage Closed

Muslim groups, meantime, recently moved to close more Christian institutions.

On July 21, following complaints from community groups, police forcibly dismantled a church in West Java on grounds that it did not have a building permit, while similar groups in East Java successfully lobbied for the closure of a Catholic orphanage claiming that it planned to “Christianize” local children.

Police in Bogor district, West Java, dismantled the temporary bamboo structure erected by the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan church in Parung Panjang on July 21. Church leaders insist that the church had long ago applied for a building permit that was not granted even though they had met all requirements, including obtaining permission from the Bogor Interfaith Harmony Forum.

“There are 234 buildings in Parung Panjang that lack building permits, including a mosque,” church elder Walman Nainggolan told Compass. “Why was our house of worship singled out?”

The church has filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia. Commissioner Johny Nelson Simanjuntak agreed to clarify the status of the church building permit with local officials and asked local police to permit peaceful worship as guaranteed by the constitution.

Separately, a group of Muslims lobbied for the closure of a Catholic orphanage for crippled children in Batu, in the Malang district of East Java, stating concern that the facility would become a covert vehicle for “Christianization.” In response to demonstrations in front of the mayor’s office in October 2008 and June 2009 and complaints from 10 different Muslim religious and community organizations, Batu Mayor Eddy Rumpoko on June 19 rescinded a building permit issued to the Catholic Bhakti Luhur Foundation and ordered that construction cease immediately.

The foundation operates 41 orphanages serving approximately 700 children with special needs.

“We are greatly saddened by this action,” the Rev. Laurentius Heru Susanto, a local vicar, told Compass. “The home was meant to serve the people. There was no other purpose.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

INDONESIA: STUDENTS DEMAND SAFE RETURN TO COLLEGE


Demonstrations turn violent at theological school; at least 17 injured.

JAKARTA, July 31 (Compass Direct News) – For a second consecutive night some 580 students from the Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology (SETIA) in East Jakarta slept in the lobby of Indonesia’s parliament yesterday following demonstrations against the school that left at least 17 students injured.

Urged on by announcements from a mosque loudspeaker to “drive out the unwanted neighbor,” hundreds of protestors shouting “Allahu-Akbar [God is greater]” and brandishing machetes, sharpened bamboo and acid continued to attack 1,400 students and school staff members even as they were evacuated over the weekend (July 26-27).

Besides the students in the parliamentary building, hundreds of others were evacuated to area denominational and medical facilities. The violence took place in spite of the efforts of 400 police officers summoned after tensions erupted on Friday (July 25).

Students and school staff taking refuge in the parliament building lobby asked government officials to return them to the college and guarantee their safety there. They talked with members of parliament, particularly from the Prosperous Peace Party (PDS), a Christian party led by Karol Daniel Kadang.

The parliamentary members promised the students, staff members and their lawyers that they would contact the head of the National Police Department to file a complaint about officers who failed to protect them during the July 25-27 violence that caused 85 million rupiahs (US$9,325) in damages.

Lawyers for the students and staff members also demanded capture of those responsible for the violence, as well as the firing of the mayor of East Jakarta, known as Murdani, for blaming the Christian students whom he referred to as a minority group that “should behave.”

A seemingly harmless incident touched off the protests. Local sources said that at 10:30 p.m. on Friday (July 25), two SETIA students, Julius Koli and Jonny Gontoh, returned to their dormitory to find a large rat, and one of them threw his sandal at it. The sandal fell onto a neighbor’s property, and when the two went there to retrieve the sandal, area residents shouted “Thieves!”

By midnight mobs had formed and were attacking two male dormitories. At 2:30 a.m., mobs had reached the third floor of one of the dormitories and were trying to burn it down. Local sources said that when they set the building on fire, gasoline spilled onto the leg of one of the attackers, and they ran away.

Another mob attacked the main building of SETIA with stones. Male students threw the stones back at them, and by 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning (July 26) local policemen arrived.

That night, area residents and Muslim extremist groups made their way past police checkpoints and some of them armed with metal clubs and machetes broke into a women’s dormitory, where male students had been transferred after female students were relocated. While the attackers ransacked the dormitory, those outside threw tear gas and home-made “Molotov cocktail” bombs at the structure.

Evacuations of students began that night. On Sunday evening (July 27), as police were further evacuating students and staff members, the attackers slashed some male students with swords. At least 17 students received treatment for injuries at the Christian University Indonesia Hospital Cawang, East Jakarta.

Among them were Gabriel Dessa, 21, and 22-year-old Yopiter M. Bessa, who both suffered stomach and hand wounds. Local sources said police officers did not arrest the assailants even though the assaults took place in front of them.

Motives for Attack

Key among motives for the attack, according to a member of the village assembly, was that area Muslims felt “disturbed” by the presence of the Christian college. They want it to be moved to another area.

SETIA officials explained to parliamentarians that the school, founded 21 years ago, has full legal permission and registration to operate. While now sitting in the middle of a populated area, when originally established the college was surrounded only by cornfields and banana plantations.

School public relations official Bayu Kusuma told the parliamentarians that the college has permission from the Religious Department, a special construction permit for a school/seminary building and registration with the official gazette (Berita Negara), along with documentation from the Republic of Indonesia.

Last year, the Muslim extremist Islamic Defenders’ Front demonstrated in front of the college, accusing it of having misapplied its permit.

Since 2007, protestors have held six demonstrations. On March 7, 2007, more than 200 Muslims set fire to construction workers’ quarters in an effort to keep SETIA from adding a fifth dormitory.

Three days later, some 300 people gathered to protest the construction, demanding that the school close. They claimed it was disturbing area residents when students sang during their classes and that students were evangelizing people in the area.

Government officials have brokered talks between the conflicting parties, without success.

Report from Compass Direct News