Armando Siahaan & Nurfika Osman
Jakarta. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono held a closed-door meeting on Monday evening, hosting a group of religious leaders who have recently been critical of his administration.
“One of the benefits of dialogue and communication is to reduce misunderstandings,” Yudhoyono said while opening the meeting at the Presidential Palace, shortly before journalists were asked to leave the room.
Present at the meeting were, among others, Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin, Andreas A. Yewangoe from the Indonesian Protestant Churches Union (PGI), Bhikku Sri Pannyavaro from the Buddhist community and Franz Magnis Suseno, a Catholic priest and intellectual.
“I hope that the culture of listening to each other will grow, as there are times when we talk and there are times when we listen,” the president said.
Hours earlier, a group of nine religious figures held a separate press conference at the Maarif Institute to express their criticisms of the government.
The religious figures were especially critical of the government’s failure to prevent the prevalence of violence against certain religions, as well failing to protect freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
“Impunity on human rights issues remains clear,” said Solahuddin Wahid from Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organization.
The group also said the law “is defeated by power and money” and also criticized the discrepancy between the strong growth of the nation’s economy against the weak distribution of wealth among the poor.
“They say the economy has grown 5.8 percent, yet they fail to alleviate poverty,” he said.
The government has also failed to pay attention to victims of major human rights violations, including the abuse of Indonesian migrant workers, Solahuddin said.
Benny Susetyo from the Indonesian Bishop’s Conference (KWI) said, “Our country is in trouble. As religious scholars, we need to remind them in a hard way.”
“We are not politicians here, and we are going to voice things the citizens worry about,” he continued.
PGI head Andreas Yewangoe said before the meeting with Yudhoyono that, “We have brains and characters. We are not going to be influenced by the palace’s opinion after the meeting.”
Last week, the same group of religious figures released a list of nine “old lies” and nine “new lies” made by the government.
The old lies include the government’s inaction on solving the murder of human rights activist Munir, the failure to uphold justice for the victims of the Lapindo mudflow disaster and dishonest data published in a government report that pointed to a successful reduction of poverty levels.
The new lies include the failure to promote inter-religious harmony, a lack of transparency in the resignation of former Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and the unresolved investigation into the attack on Indonesian Corruption Watch activist Tama Satrya Langkun.