In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, the number of cases of religious intolerance doubled during 2014 – to 67, according to a recent report from the Southeast Asian nation’s National Commission on Human Rights.
About 30 of these cases were about the closure or vandalism of churches, or the rejection of new churches.
Police featured prominently among the alleged perpetrators, says the report, highlighting the apathy of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (known as ‘SBY’).
Amid this atmosphere of religious conflicts, Joko Widodo, former governor of Jakarta and a progressive Muslim – popularly known as ‘Jokowi’ – took office in Oct 2014 as the President of this archipelago, raising hope that Islamist extremists may no longer be able to persecute Christians and other minorities with impunity.
VIDEO: HIGH HOPES IN INDONESIA
In this 17’00” video feature, World Watch Monitor speaks to church leaders and political analysts about prospects for religious freedom and Yasmin church’s struggle, which is being seen as a test case for the future of religious minorities under Jokowi’s presidency.
To view subtitles, place your pointer over the video, then click the “CC” button at the bottom of the player.
Indonesia remains at no. 47 on the 2015 annual World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian, the same as in 2014.
There are initial promising signs: in an unprecedented move, the police chief of Jakarta announced in October that the radical Islamic group ‘Islamic Defenders’ Front’ (known as FPI) should be ‘dissolved once and for all’. This announcement came after a decade in which FPI was able to act without impunity. “This may be an indication of a re-thinking process,” says Daniel Ottenberg, a persecution analyst for the World Watch Research Unit of Open Doors International.”The announcement was made because the FPI made a very strong statement that they would never accept the new Christian Governor of Jakarta and the fact that he oversees eight Islamic charities as part of his responsibilities.
Even though the Governor said he would not back down, the police chief foresaw major trouble ahead and publicly took a stance against FPI. It was striking that he was much more outspoken than he needed to be”.
Last week, an even more recent encouraging sign was that a committee set up to find a replacement for the current Indonesian Chief Justice, grilled proposed candidates about their stance regarding constitutional rights and religious freedom. A candidate called I Dewa Gede Palguna, a former Constitutional Court Justice and Constitutional Law Professor at a university in Bali, affirmed religious freedom is safeguarded by the Constitution. Indonesia, reports the Jakarta Post, has also received international praise for a recent government bill that enshrines inter-faith tolerance into the country’s onstitution.
Nevertheless, set against such signs, a church under the local G.K.I. denomination, known as the Yasmin church and situated in Bogor City in the suburbs of the capital Jakarta, continues to worship in the homes of believers.
The building it owns remains sealed more than three years after the Supreme Court directed the local government to reverse its ban on the church.