Indonesia's Minister of Religious Affairs intensifies the climate of intolerance by making the Christians responsible for the closures of churches

Religious freedom of the Indonesian Christians is at stake

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) accuses Indonesia's Minister of Religious Affairs, Suryadharma Ali, of not trying to protect the religious minorities such as the Christians, the Ahmadiyyah and the Shiite Muslims, but of defaming them deliberately. "With his irresponsible behavior, the Minister of Religion is intensifying the climate of intolerance that has already spolied Indonesia's reputation of an emerging democracy," said the STP's expert on questions regarding Asia, Ulrich Delius, in Göttingen on Wednesday. On Tuesday, the minister had publicly blamed the Christians for the fact that the authorities had closed down some churches. He also accused the Christians of unnecessarily politicizing the issue and drawing attention to themselves by means of their protests.

Last Sunday, around 200 members of the protestant Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) and the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) held an Easter service in the open in front of the President's palace in the capital Jakarta – as a form of protest against the closure of their houses of worship. Further, the Christians protested against the destruction of a HKBP church in Bekasi district, close to Jakarta. Following protests of radical Islamists, the church had been torn down by the authorities the week before Easter, because it had no official permission. The protests had gotten worldwide attention.

"The fact that the Minister of Religious Affairs remains silent to the destruction of the church can only be interpreted as a tacit consent to the authorities' harsh decision," said Delius. "If a church is torn down by bulldozers a few days before one of the most important Christian holidays, this is a clear sign that there is no interest in finding a compromise with the Christians. This is a sign of confrontation and exclusion."

As Suryadharma Ali is close to the radical Islamists, he was seen as controversial for the last few months. In February 2013, the Minister for Religious Affairs – who is also chairman of the "United Development Party (PPP)" – had offered two radical Islamists to get involved in his political party. A few days ago, local groups of the PPP had announced that they will only set up Muslim candidates for the upcoming elections, in order to preserve the party's Islamic character.