Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cases of religious violence up: Report

Religious violence is on the rise in the world’s largest Muslim country according to a report by the Wahid Institute, which places the blame on the government for its failing to crack down on radical groups.

The institute, a moderate Islamic think tank founded by former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid to promote pluralism in Indonesia, reported that religious freedom-related violence had increased throughout the country, with 232 cases reported this year compared to 197 last year.

Many of the incidences of violence were perpetrated by state authorities, according to the annual report released on Human Rights Day, Wednesday.

“The acts of violence against religious freedom were 60 percent carried out by civilian groups and 33 percent by the state,” the report said.

It said the state perpetrators included local administrations, police, legislators, courts and the Religious Affairs Ministry.

Civilian perpetrators were identified as members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the Communications Forum for Religious Harmony.

The frequency and severity of the violence increased from last year, the report said. It noted that the government had been weak in administering punishment, which it said set a worrisome trend for the future.

The institute said violations against religious freedom had come in the form of physical attacks, raids, destruction of houses of worship and accusations of apostasy and heresy.

The report recorded some 50 cases of violence this year, which were sparked by issuances of fatwa by the MUI against certain groups it branded “heretical or deviant”.

“MUI fatwa against specific groups are often used to legalize violence and stereotyping,” said Ahmad Suaedy, executive director of the Wahid Institute, which is headed by Gus Dur’s daughter, Yenny Zannuba Wahid.

Suaedy criticized the government for bowing to pressure from hard-liners to disband the Jamaah Ahmadiyah sect.

The government in June this year issued a joint ministerial decree banning Ahmadiyah from disseminating its doctrine.

“It is an example that the mobilization of masses can be used to force the government to take actions that can be conceived as constitutional violations. If (it allows) such practices to continue, the government is investing in a future disintegration of the nation,” Suaedy said.

In its report, the institute lists the “Monas tragedy” as the worst act of violence against pluralism in 2008, referring to an event in which activists from the National Alliance for Freedom of Religion and Belief were attacked by members of the FPI, injuring 70 people, including Suaedy.

National Commission on Human Rights chairman Ifdal Kasim warned that including religious affairs in state policies could lead to attacks against religious freedom.

“This contradicts the principles of human rights that oblige the government to protect its citizens, and (uphold) religious freedom,” he told a discussion on the report.