The government needs to take back its statement boasting about Indonesia being a tolerant country after a recently released report suggests that cases of intolerance are on the rise, a prominent rights activist said on Wednesday.
“I’ve read the report and was not surprised by its content,” Human Rights Watch consultant Andreas Harsono said.
Andreas referred to a study that was released on Monday by religious freedom advocacy group the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy.
Setara recorded 129 incidents of violence and 179 violations of religious freedom from January through June this year. The numbers are already more than half of last year’s total, which had 244 incidents and 299 violations.
“The government and those who said that recent incidents were not [acts of] intolerance are delusional,” Andreas said.
The HRW consultant was referring to statements made by Nahdlatul Ulama chairman Hasyim Muzadi, which were backed by Muhammadiyah’s Din Syamsuddin last month. Both are Islamic groups. Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali in May called Indonesia “the most tolerant country in the world.”
Andreas said the bleak numbers would continue to grow because Indonesia still enforced discriminative regulations, handed out light sentences to perpetrators of intolerance and had a government that constantly denied what was happening within its borders.
According to Setara, Christians have replaced the Islamic minority sect Ahmadiyah as the group whose religious freedoms has been violated the most. The advocacy group also cited the government — particularly local governments — as the worst offender and said most administrations were guilty of sealing off and prohibiting entry into places of worship.
Gomar Gultom, the secretary general of the Indonesian Council of Churches (PGI), said there was a growing frustration from Christians who were denied their rights to build a place of worship.
“The governments always said that they denied [minority groups] the right to build a place of worship because they didn’t want to offend the majority,” Gomar said. “Can’t they see that it shows how intolerant the people really are?
“We don’t know what else to do. It is hopeless to wait for the government, and a class-action suit might be futile.”
Gomar referred to the GKI Yasmin congregation in Bogor, which is still being denied entry into its own church by local officials despite having a Supreme Court ruling in its favor.
Setara also recorded 20 violations directed toward individuals, compared to seven from last year. Among the most notable were Alexander Aan, who was sentenced to more than two years in jail for posting “God does not exist” on Facebook, and attacks during Canadian author Irshad Manji’s visit to Indonesia.
Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) deputy chairman Ma’ruf Amin refused to acknowledge the incidents as reported by Setara as discrimination, claiming a “different perspective of human rights.”
“They have secular views on human rights, which of course will always be different from ours,” Ma’ruf said. “The MUI’s human rights are according to the Constitution; it has limits. It’s not secular like Setara, where everything falls under the category of a human right.”