In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, government protection of religious freedom has been deteriorating, the United States says.
While the Indonesian government generally respects the freedom of the country’s six officially recognized religions, it has failed to overturn local regulations violating religious freedom, the US State Department said in a report released on Monday.
And despite the country’s tradition of religious pluralism, societal abuse against religious minorities is on the rise, it added.
“There were several significant lapses in enforcing protections,” it said.
The International Religious Freedom Report, which examined religious freedom in 199 countries and territories in 2011, highlighted discrimination and violence against religious minorities in Indonesia including Ahmadi Muslims and Christians, as well as atheists.
It cited a case in February 2011 when a mob of more than 1,500 people attacked Ahmadis in Cikeusik, Banten province, killing three and injuring five others. Videos of the attack posted online showed members of the mob beating the Ahmadis to death as the police failed to intervene.
While 12 members of the mob were brought to trial, the report said, “they were given disproportionately light prison sentences” of three to six months. By comparison, an Ahmadi injured in the attack was arrested, charged with provoking the attack and sentenced to seven months in prison, it said.
“Due to inaction, the government sometimes failed to prevent violence, abuse and discrimination against individuals based on their religious beliefs,” the report said. “In some cases, it failed to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable.”
During 2011 there were 93 government-instigated violations of religious freedom, up from 64 the year before, the report said, citing the Wahid Institute.
It criticized the closure of houses of worship, as well as restrictions on freedom to construct houses of worship, citing the high-profile case of the GKI Yasmin church in Bogor.
The Bogor city government initially approved a construction permit for GKI Yasmin in 2006, but construction was halted after a 2008 city government decision, the report said. The church challenged this city-level decision in the court system and the Supreme Court ruled in its favor in 2010, but the city government did not enforce the court’s decision.
“At times, local public order police [Satpol PP] and Bogor City police blocked access to the church site,” the report said. “Throughout the year the congregation faced intimidation from hardline organizations when attempting to attend Sunday services at the site of their church.”
The report also criticized the detention and imprisonment of individuals under the 1965 Blasphemy Law, which allows a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment for blasphemy. In February 2011, Antonius Richmond Bawengan was jailed for five years for blasphemy in Temanggung, Central Java, after distributing books deemed “offensive to Islam,” it said.
Indonesia grants official status to six religious groups, including Islam, Catholicism Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism.
“Members of religious groups outside of the six officially recognized religions continued to experience some official discrimination in the context of civil registration of marriages and births as well as in the issuance of identity cards,” the report said.
The US government, the report said, has regularly raised the issue of religious freedom with the Indonesian government and Indonesian civil society leaders in a bid to promote human rights.
“[Freedom of religion] goes hand in hand with freedom of expression, freedom of speech and assembly, and when religious freedom is restricted, all these rights are at risk,” Suzan Johnson Cook, the US ambassador for religious freedom, said in a press briefing about the report in Washington on Monday. “And for this reason, religious freedom is often the bellwether for other human rights.”