Christians fear for religious freedom

Presidential elections in Indonesia (July 9)

In Indonesia, the religious minorities fear further restrictions of their freedom of religion in case ex-general Prabowo Subianto should win tomorrow's presidential elections. This was reported by the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) in Göttingen on Tuesday. "Prabowo's campaign was aimed at defaming his competitors as infidels, to ensure support by Sunni extremists. If he is elected, there will be more religious intolerance in the predominantly Muslim state," warned the STP's Asia-consultant, Ulrich Delius. Today, there are already at least 147 regulations and laws in Indonesia that discriminate Christians, Shiites, Sufis, Ahmadiyyah, Buddhists, Bahai'i, Hindus and followers of indigenous religions. "Democracy can not exist without freedom of religion. Prabowo's possible election would be a catastrophe for all of south-eastern Asia, because religious freedom is at risk also in Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos and Burma/Myanmar."

The controversial ex-general is also supported by the current Minister of Religion, Suryadharma Ali, who is infamous for his verbal attacks against Christians and Ahmadiyyah-Muslims. In recent years, Ali had repeatedly blamed the religious minorities for the increasing number of attacks on their houses of worship. He advised the Ahmadiyyah to convert to Islam and to give up their alleged "heresy". Meanwhile, the number of attacks on non-Sunni is increasing steadily. In 2009, there were 200 registered attacks – and 264 in 2012. It is not only the public protests of religious extremists that are a threat to the freedom of religion, but also the controversial practices of the local authorities. Thus, in 2012, at least 50 Christian churches were forced to close their doors forever, by order of the authorities.

In 2013, conflicts between ethnic and religious communities in Indonesia rose by 23 percent in comparison to the year before. 203 people died in 153 violent clashes. "The interference with the freedom of religion and the increasing agitation against dissenters have created a climate of intolerance, which is blocking the democratization-process in the former military dictatorship," said Delius.

The chairman of the Christian Synod of Indonesia (PGI), Andreas Yewangoe, also criticized Prabowo's electoral program, emphasizing that the state should not try to act as a "guardian of the purity of religion." Franz Magni-Suseno, a Jesuit and scientist, also criticized the state's interference with religious matters – as faith should be seen as a citizen's individual decision. The secretary of the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, Father Benny Suseyto, also published a critical comment concerning the Islamists' support for Prabowo. Most of the Christians and other religious minorities, but also the democracy-oriented Sunnis, are in favor of the democratic presidential candidate and former Governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo. His campaign aims for a further democratization-process in Indonesia.


Ulrich Delius, head of STP's Asia department, is available for further questions: Tel. 0551 49906 27 or asien@gfbv.de.