Daily Archives: 10 December 2005

Improvements in Religious Freedom in Indonesia

The U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report 2005, introduces its section on improvements in religious freedom in Indonesia with the following summary.

NGOs in the country made some progress in improving respect for religious freedom, particularly in the conflict zones of Central Sulawesi and the Moluccas. NGOs worked closely with religious leaders and the local community to promote mutual respect and cooperation. Conflict resolution efforts in former conflict areas of Central Sulawesi and the Moluccas continued to progress during the period covered by this report. Religious leaders and their followers visited each other’s religious holiday celebrations and often consulted with each other. Sporadic violence incidents in both areas during the period covered by this report failed to spark broader conflict as it had done in years past.

In December, 2004, a 2-day International Dialogue on Interfaith Cooperation, organized jointly with Muhammadiyah, was co-sponsored in Yogyakarta by the Government and the Government of Australia. The President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono opened the dialogue with remarks that terrorism must be regarded as the enemy of all religions and that tolerance building was critical. Major faith leaders from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and East Timor participated in the Dialogue.

In a national celebration of the Chinese New Year, the President stated that the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, including Confucianism, and followers should not hesitate to practice their beliefs. The New Year, which took place in February 2005, was celebrated without incident.

Local police displayed significantly more willingness during the period covered by this report to indict security forces allegedly involved in religious violence. In January 2005, local police arrested a senior police officer for his alleged role in the December 2004 church bombings in Palu. Local police also became more active in making arrests of those allegedly involved in violent incidents. A day after the shooting of a Palu clergywoman in July 2004, the Police Chief held a closed door meeting with local religious leaders and promised that the police would guarantee security for both Christians and Muslims. Since that time, local police have protected local churches and other prayer houses during religious services.

Local courts also began, for the first time, to try some cases of those allegedly responsible for violence in Ambon. Beginning in July 2004, local courts began to prosecute a rash of cases, including 17 trials of predominantly Christian separatists in connection with the April 2004 violence.

The Government has taken more steps to prosecute perpetrators involved in Maluku and Sulawesi conflict. On August 28, 2004, 12 Muslim militants were sentenced for their involvement in the Morowali attack in Central Sulawesi in 2003.

The news is not all good, of course. The same report also contains much longer sections on the legal/policy framework and restrictions on religious freedom, plus shorter sections on abuses of religious freedom, forced religious conversion, and abuses by terrorist organizations.

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