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INDONESIA: Muslims block Christians’ construction on Borneo Island

INDONESIA: Muslims block Christians’ contruction 

Another congregation wins right to build after initial ban.

Morning Star News (13.03.2023) – Muslims in a village in northeastern Indonesia’s portion of Borneo Island prohibited a church from constructing a worship building, sources said.


Local leaders of Selumit village, in Tarakan City in North Kalimantan Province, stated in a Feb. 28 letter that Mawar Sharon Christian Church’s proposed construction was against state regulations since it would be located amid the predominantly Muslim Tidung tribes, according to news outlet kayantara.com.


Kristianto Triwibowo S.Pi, coordinator of the Indonesian Christian Student Movement (Gerakan Mahasiswa Kristen Indonesia, or GMKI), Region VI Chapter, reportedly said the ban defies the Indonesian constitution and the country’s philosophy of Pancasila, the government’s guiding policy of unity and social justice for all of Indonesia’s various peoples.


“The state guarantees the right to worship and embrace the religion of all people,” Kristianto said in a press statement on March 7. “ Instead of rejecting the services of the Mawar Sharon Church (GMS), which should not happen, we must tolerate each other and maintain diversity.”


The GMKI encouraged the North Kalimantan and Tarakan City governments, along with the Ministry of Religion and various state agencies, to fully protect activities of the church, which is registered with the Ministry of Religion.


Church in Malang


In East Java Province, Malang Regency, a church won the right to continue constructing a building after Muslims in Sumberejo village, Gedangan Sub-District initially prohibited it.


Sumberejo village head Abdul Rohman prohibited the construction of the East Java Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Jawi Wetan, or GKJW) after members of the Sumberejo Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) branch requested a ban in a Jan. 20 letter. The church comprises 20 families, said the chairman of the GKJW Supreme Council, the Rev. Natael Hermawan Prianto.


In the local NU branch’s letter, area Muslims reportedly recommended against construction to maintain “harmonious relationships” and “the comfort and security of the community.”


Pastor Natael, who helped bring together several related parties to resolve the issue, said that talks with the involvement of the Malang Regency Interreligious Communication Forum (Forum Komunikasi Umat Beragama, or FKUB) led to an agreement on March 6 under which residents allowed construction to go forward.


“The church construction will surely be continued,” he told Morning Star News.


Requirements for obtaining permission to build houses of worship in Indonesia are onerous and hamper the establishment of such buildings for Christians and other faiths, rights advocates say. Indonesia’s Joint Ministerial Decree of 2006 makes requirements for obtaining permits nearly impossible for most new churches.


Even when small, new churches are able to meet the requirement of obtaining 90 signatures of approval from congregation members and 60 from area households of different religions, they are often met with delays or lack of response from officials. Well-organized radical Muslims secretly mobilize outside people to intimidate and pressure members of minority faiths.


Indonesia ranked 33rd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Indonesian society has adopted a more conservative Islamic character, and churches involved in evangelistic outreach are at risk of being targeted by Islamic extremist groups, according to Open Doors’ WWL report.


“If a church is seen to be preaching and spreading the gospel, they soon run into opposition from Islamic extremist groups, especially in rural areas,” the report noted. “In some regions of Indonesia, non-traditional churches struggle to get permission for church buildings, with the authorities often ignoring their paperwork.”


Photo: North Kalimantan Province, Indonesia. (NordNordWest, Creative Commons)


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INDONESIA: Call to end bias against followers of indigenous traditional faiths

Call to end bias against traditional faiths

Despite a ruling from the Constitutional Court, followers of indigenous faiths still lack full recognition from the state

By Katharina Reny Lestari


UCA News (22.11.2022) – https://bit.ly/3XBn4qG – Religious leaders in Indonesia have urged the government and society to bring an end to what they call various forms of discrimination against followers of traditional faiths in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian nation.

“The root of the problem is clear enough, which is the lack of the state’s full recognition of traditional faiths that traditional faiths are real, and their followers live in the society. It is an irony in a nation that promotes religious tolerance and harmony,” reads a statement from an interfaith gathering held Nov. 16-19 at Cigugur of Kuningan district in West Java province.

The Maklumat Cigugur (Cigugur Declaration) resulted from the gathering that drew leaders from Buddhism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, and Protestantism as well as traditional faiths. It was organized by the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI), the country’s largest inter-church forum.


The declaration decried that “intolerance and discrimination are still systematically faced by followers of traditional faiths.”

The faith leaders urged the government to end all acts hindering public services to followers of traditional faiths and encouraged social elements to uphold the values of humanity and national unity.

Followers of traditional faiths say they continue to face discrimination in the country.

Engkus Ruswana, a follower of BudiDaya, a traditional Sundanese faith and coordinator of the Indonesian Native Faiths Council, told UCA News on Nov. 21 that in October he came to know about the ordeal faced by a 20-year-old follower of the indigenous faith, Marapu.

The parents of the boy were forced to list themselves as Protestants in the religion column in the family certificate and identity cards before he was admitted to a school on Sumba Island in Christian-majority East Nusa Tenggara province.

The school required ‘a baptism certificate’ for admission, which the parents didn’t have.

The boy faced a similar situation when he applied for an identity card, he said.

Indonesia officially recognizes six religions – Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism.

Ruswana said that the boy was aware that a ruling by the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the 2013 Civil Administration Law and paved the way for followers of traditional faiths to have their beliefs officially recognized by the government.

“So, he wanted to replace ‘Protestantism’ on the religion column of his identity card with Kepercayaan terhadap Tuhan Yang Maha Esa (trust in God Almighty). But he could not do that as he was told his parents are still listed as Protestants. He must follow his parents,” he said.

According to the law, identity cards should include elements of citizens’ data including religion, and the religion column should be left blank for citizens whose religions are not yet recognized and for followers of traditional beliefs.

Followers of four traditional faiths filed for a judicial review in 2016, arguing that the law violated the principle of equality before the law. The court said articles in the law that required people adopting traditional faiths to leave the religion column in their identity cards blank were discriminatory.

After consultations with various religious leaders, the government decided that the religion column on identity cards for traditional faith followers would be replaced with a traditional faith column without listing the faith’s specific name. Instead, it would have the phrase, trust in God Almighty.

There are 187 traditional faiths in Indonesia with about 12 million followers.

Iwan Setiawan, 40, a follower of the indigenous faith Kapribaden, from Jakarta claimed that he has not yet received his identity card with the sanctioned phrase written in the religion column though he submitted the application in 2019.

“I checked with local authorities this year. But they said it is not ready yet. One even told me that there are only six recognized religions. They do not really understand about the latest policy or what?” he told UCA News.

Nilna Rusyda, a Muslim from the Kuningan chapter of the Interfaith Women Network, said Muslims do not have any objection toward full recognition of traditional faiths.

“We respect them. Even though we adhere to different faiths, we have the same rights as citizens. Let us be united in kindness,” she told UCA News.

Reverend Jimmy Sormin, executive secretary of the PGI’s Witness and Integrity of Creation Desk, said that PGI has made freedom of religion a major priority since 2019.

“PGI needs to respond to the issue of freedom of religion. It is because there are still challenges particularly faced by followers of traditional faiths,” he told UCA News.

“What we have done so far is we invited all members of PGI to transform our mission: how we proclaim the Gospel for the sake of justice for all people whose rights are not fully recognized yet,” he said.

Photo: In this photo taken in August 2016, women followers of some of Indonesia’s traditional beliefs and indigenous faiths, offer prayers during a recent gathering in Jakarta. (Photo: Katharina R. Lestari)

Further reading about FORB in Indonesia on HRWF website

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INDONESIA : Religious freedom issues raised at the UN in Geneva

Religious freedom issues raised at the UN in Geneva

HRWF (15.11.2022) – On 9 November, Indonesia’s human rights report was reviewed in the framework of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva. The issue of religious freedom was particularly raised by Christian Solidarity Worldwide in a submission filed ahead of the UPR process. Here is an excerpt of it:

Rising religious intolerance

23. While Indonesia’s tradition of religious pluralism does have limitations which should be addressed, including the lack of protection for adherents of religions outside the six religions recognised by the constitution and for those of other beliefs, it was designed to protect pluralism in a Muslim-majority nation.

24. Rising religious intolerance, however, threatens to destroy these achievements and poses a threat not only to the country’s religious minorities, but to all Indonesians who value democracy, human rights, peace and stability.

25. There has also been a decline in state-sponsored violations of FoRB. However, there continues to be growing religious intolerance in society, as evidenced by the instrumentalization of religion in the 2019 elections.

Attacks on religious minorities

26. Incidents of violence against religious minorities, particularly Christians, Ahmadiyyas, Shi’as and adherents of religions or beliefs not recognised by the state, including indigenous traditional beliefs, continue periodically within a climate of impunity.

27. In September 2020, UCA News reported that Reverend Yeremia Zanambani, a Protestant pastor and Bible translator, had been shot dead in Indonesia’s restive Papua region.4 There was some dispute over whether he had been killed by the Indonesian military or by members of a local separatist group, however in October 2020 Indonesia’s human rights commission (Komnas HAM) reported that a fact- finding team believed Pastor Zanambani had been tortured and killed by the military, who were hoping to extract information on stolen military weapons.5

28. On 30 November 2020, IS-linked Islamic militants carried out an attack on a Salvation Army outpost in Lemban Tongoa village in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province. Four people were killed, one of whom was beheaded, and several homes were burnt down, including a house used for prayers.

Attacks on places of worship

29. Various places of worship have been attacked during the reporting period, including Christian churches, Ahmadiyya mosques and Buddhist temples.

30. One of the darkest days for religious minorities in the country occurred on 13 May 2018 when three churches in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, were attacked within minutes of each other by a family of suicide bombers. Three individuals received prison sentences for their suspected involvement in the bombing in March 2019.

31. On Palm Sunday, 28 March 2021, suicide bombers attacked a Catholic Church in Makassar, South Sulawesi, leaving at least 14 people injured. 6

32. In March 2020, 15 Indonesians filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court arguing that the closure of thousands of places of worship was being done under a discriminatory law, the 2006 Religious Harmony regulation.7

Ahmadiyya Muslim community

33. The Ahmadiyya Muslim community has existed in Indonesia since 1925, and claims a population of approximately 500,000 across 330 branches throughout the country. The Ahmadiyya consider themselves to be Muslims but are regarded by some other Muslims as heretical.

34. Since 2005, the community has experienced serious violations of FoRB, including incidents of violence. A Joint Ministerial Decree introduced in 2008 by the Minister of Religious Affairs, the Attorney General and the Minister of Home Affairs prohibited promulgation of Ahmadiyya teachings. In 2011, the then Minister of Religious Affairs repeatedly called for an outright ban on the Ahmadiyya, and in 2013 the governor of West Java said that there would be no violence against the Ahmadiyya if there were no Ahmadiyya teachings or practices, describing Ahmadiyya Islam as “a deviant belief.” The “problem,” he added, “will disappear if the belief disappears.”

35. Although there has been, according to Ahmadi representatives, “some improvement” under the government of President Joko Widodo, intimidation of the Ahmadiyya continues and Ahmadiyya activities continue to be restricted to date.

36. On 14 January 2022, UCA News reported that a district chief in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province ordered the demolition of an Ahmadi mosque that had been damaged in a September 2021 attack by Muslim extremists.8 The order was issued days after the perpetrators of the attack were jailed for four months.



4 UCANews, ‘Protestant Pastor shot dead in Indonesia, 21 September 2020 https://www.ucanews.com/news/protestant-pastor- shot-dead-in-indonesia/89597
5 CNN Indonesia, ‘Investigasi Tim Kemanusiaan: Pendeta Yeremia Ditembak TNI’, 30 October 2020 https://www.cnnindonesia.com/nasional/20201029125036-20-563926/investigasi-tim-kemanusiaan-pendeta-yeremia- ditembak-tni

6 BBC, ‘Indonesia bombing: Worshippers wounded in Makassar church attack‘, 28 March 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-56553790

7 Twitter, tweet by Andreas Harsono, 5 March 2020, https://twitter.com/andreasharsono/status/1235707989459337216 8 UCANews, ‘Indonesian district to demolish Ahmadi house of worship’, 14 January 2022 https://www.ucanews.com/news/indonesian-district-to-demolish-ahmadi-house-of-worship/95731

Further reading about FORB in Indonesia on HRWF website

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INDONESIA: Hijab rules in state schools are raising rights concerns

Hijab rules are raising rights concerns

UCA News (05.08.2022) – https://bit.ly/3bEyNSB A recent case of forcing a student to wear a hijab at a state school has renewed concerns about a “rights violation” in Indonesia, which also targets religious minorities, according to rights activists.

The Muslim-majority country was shocked last week by the case of a Muslim student at a senior high school in Banguntapan, Bantul district, Yogyakarta special region who claimed to be intimidated by teachers into wearing a headscarf.

As a result, the 16-year-old student was reported to have confined herself for an hour in a school toilet.

The school later denied any coercion, but the “traumatized” girl reportedly moved to another school.

The case sparked criticism from rights groups against the practice of coercion, which has also been experienced by religious minorities across the country.

Andreas Harsono, the Indonesia researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said cases of forced wearing of the hijab will continue because there are still regulations that require the hijab, although efforts have already begun to change it.

“There are still at least 60 regulations in the regions, from the districts, cities and provincial levels to national ones, complete with sanctions,” he told UCA News on Aug. 2.

He said the regulations were generally coercive.

“Because there is a system of coercion mixed with reasons for religious beliefs, there is a practice of supervising each other, becoming a kind of police force for others who don’t obey it,” he said.

He said recent HRW research found that such regulations, which were introduced in 2001 in a number of Muslim-majority provinces such as West Java, Aceh and West Sumatra, had an impact such as widespread bullying of girls and women to force them to wear the hijab, as well as the deep psychological distress the bullying can cause.

The victims, he said, included non-Muslims.

“We found coercion against non-Muslims in 24 provinces to varying degrees, from Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, as well as from other religions,” he said.

He said victims who did not comply were forced to leave school or withdrew under pressure, while some female civil servants, including teachers, doctors, school principals and university lecturers, lost their jobs or felt compelled to resign.

He said the government had taken steps to end this practice, citing a move by Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim and two other ministers in February 2021 who amended the 2014 regulation to specify that schoolgirls are free to choose whether to wear the hijab.

However, he said, in May 2021, the Supreme Court struck down that amendment to the regulation, effectively ruling that girls under 18 have no right to choose their own clothes.

The court said the amendment contravened existing laws on the jurisdiction of local governments, child protection and the national education system.

“The ruling ended government efforts to give Muslim girls and teachers the freedom to choose what they wear,” he said.

“As long as there is no attempt to correct the existing regulations, we can be sure that in the future, coercive efforts will reappear,” he said.

Meanwhile, Halili Hasan, a researcher from the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said forcing the wearing of the hijab, including in schools “is contrary to the diversity of Indonesia, which we must uphold, maintain and strengthen.”

He said stakeholders in schools “should be key actors for educational and civilizing processes in schools that are principally oriented to the interests of students, non-violence (from symbolic, verbal to open acts of violence), and a culture of peace.”

“The act of forcing the wearing of the headscarf that traumatized students is clearly against these principles,” he said.

Photo: A woman wearing a hijab – UCA News

Further reading about FORB in Indonesia on HRWF website

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INDONESIA: Clerical body ‘sorry’ for false apostasy claims

Clerical body ‘sorry’ for false apostasy claims

North Sumatra branch of Ulema Council sparks row after official said conversions were rampant in local district

By Katharina R. Lestari


UCA News (17.05.2022)- https://bit.ly/3Pv35Gn – A provincial branch of Indonesia’s highest Muslim clerical body was forced to apologize on May 17 after coming under fire from local authorities and Christians for indirectly accusing religious minorities of apostasy.

The row began several days earlier when the North Sumatra branch of the Ulema Council claimed that a district in the province had a very alarming rate of apostasy cases.

Muhammad Hatta, who heads the council’s local religious propagation desk, said over the weekend that he was informed about a large number of Muslims abandoning their faith in Langkat district.

Despite a lack of concrete data confirming this, he claimed that “it was very alarming.”

According to him, there were attempts to convert local Muslims to other faiths through marriage and other methods.

“Sometimes a couple professing Islam and another religion get married the Islamic way but after the Muslim is forced to adhere to his or her partner’s religion,” Indonesian language news portal detick.com quoted him as saying.

He pointed to a case in which a 30-year-old Muslim woman was allegedly forced to convert to Christianity after marrying a Protestant man in the district.

However, his claims were fiercely denied by a local official and a Catholic Church leader.

The acting district head, Syah Afandin, acknowledged a Muslim woman had converted to Christianity but asserted that “she was the only one” and “there are no attempts at organized apostasy.”

He said Hatta’s remarks were very inflammatory, “because what really happened was that the Muslim woman dated the Christian man, left her parent’s home for six months to be with him, converted to Christianity, and was married to him by a Protestant pastor.”

He also said the Muslim woman’s parents had filed a police report which was rejected as they had no authority to deal with the case.

Speaking with UCA News on May 17, Reverend Ahmad Sajli DK Pinem, general secretary of the North Sumatra chapter of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, criticized the said the local Ulema council claim was blown out of proportion.

Commenting on the conversion of the Muslim woman he said: “Conversion is a personal affair. It has nothing to do with others.”

He said the woman’s family might be disappointed with her decision. “Or perhaps they want something else. I do not know.”

He also called on Christians in the district not to be provoked by the Ulema Council’s claim about large-scale conversions he said.

The North Sumatra chapter of the MUI finally issued a clarification on May 17 following the criticisms.

Its chairman, Zulkifli Ahmad Dian, apologized for the confusion and said the district had in fact recorded no mass apostasy attempts.

Photo: An official at the North Sumatra branch of Indonesia’s Ulema Council claimed many Muslims were being converted to other religions through marriage. (Unsplash)

Further reading about FORB in Indonesia on HRWF website

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