Young people join protests against the former Christian Jakarta governor Ahok who was convicted of blasphemy in May last year. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Mass protests during former Jakarta’s governor Ahok’s trial, where Islamic hardliners called for his imprisonment. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The number of religious freedom violations in Indonesia grew again in 2017 and for the first time non-state actors were the worst offenders, reports the Jakarta Globe.

Last year 213 incidents were reported, 4% more than the year before, according to the annual report of the human rights group Wahid Foundation, published last week.

For the first time, most violations (64%) were committed not by government-affiliated institutions but by non-state actors such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).

According to the report, not enough was done to curb this trend. “As a result, this organisation has not been deterred … Quite [the] contrary, this shows that FPI’s actions are not fully noticed by the law,” the report said.

The main victims of the violations were Ahmadiyya and Shia Muslims and members of Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), an Islamist group banned by the government last year.

At the same time there were 398 “positive initiatives” relating to religious freedom in 2017 – for example, “allowing followers of indigenous faiths to have their beliefs recognised in their national identity cards” – an increase of 64% compared to 2016.

The report also noted 28 cases of “politicisation” of religion, with most of them relating to the case of Jakarta’s former governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who was sent to prison for blasphemy last year.

Yenny Wahid, the foundation’s executive director, said that precautions must be taken ahead of next year’s elections. “Intolerance and politicisation of religion leave scars and bad memories; this is something that must be healed, or it can blow up,” Yenny said, suggesting setting up early warning systems to stop religiously aggravated incidents from escalating.

Ahead of recent regional elections, some hard-line Islamic leaders called on Indonesians to vote only for Muslim candidates.

Last month World Watch Monitor reported that Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission was to propose guidelines to avoid sectarian clashes in the run-up to next year’s national elections. “The commission is determined to set out norms to eliminate race and ethnic discrimination during the presidential election in 2019, and other polls, because it is important with regards to national unity,” said the commission’s Choiril Anam.

Indonesia, with a population of 243 million, has the world’s largest Muslim population (87%), while Christians (9.9%) and Hindus (1.7%) are the most represented minority religions.

A report published last year by advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide found that Indonesia’s religious minorities were fearful that their country’s reputation as a “tolerant Muslim-majority nation” was being undermined by radical Islam’s growing influence on politics and society.