Religious Freedom Report

May 7th, 2006, in News, by

Indonesia remains on the “Watch List” in the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom report for 2006.

There are several ways in which countries are designated. Worst level is “countries of particular concern”. 2006 sees Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan added to the list for the first time, joining pre-existing members North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Vietnam and Burma.

Next is the “Watch List”. In 2006 Afghanistan joins Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Nigeria, and Indonesia.

The report’s contents for Indonesia:

Indonesia’s transition to democracy since the end of military rule in 1998 is a notable achievement. The majority of Indonesians have embraced democracy, religious tolerance, and religious pluralism. In addition, a vibrant civil society has initiated public discussions on the nature of democracy, the separation of religion and state, women’s rights, and human rights more generally. These developments have contributed to a gradual improvement in conditions for human rights, including religious freedom, over the past few years. Nevertheless, the Commission remains concerned about ongoing communal violence, the forcible closures of places of worship belonging to religious minorities, the growing political power and influence of religious extremists, and the lack of civilian control over the military. Religiously motivated violence in Central Sulawesi, the Malukus, Papua, and parts of West Java continued in the past year, including murders, bombings, and mob violence. In some of these regions, militant Islamist groups appear to operate with relative impunity. Moderate Muslim leaders and members of religious minorities face pressure, intimidation, or sometimes violence from protestors organized by extremist groups, government officials, or members of the police and military. In addition, the government continues to restrict the construction and expansion of places of worship. Because of these persistent concerns, the Commission continues to place Indonesia on its Watch List.

The bolded sections are not true, in fact it is the reverse. The freeing up of political life has been the main reason why attacks against religious minorities have increased. The state has weakened, power has devolved to the regions, political expression is now less restricted, and radical groups have flourished under these conditions. Democracy does not always lead to positive outcomes, as America has found out in Iraq, but the lesson has yet to sink in.

Islam in Indonesia is known historically for its tolerance and its assimilation of a variety of indigenous cultural traditions. With the end of authoritarian rule, there has been a revival of Islamic awareness and piety, once repressed by the government. The wearing of Islamic dress has re-emerged as an outward sign of devotion; the number of Islamic banks, businesses, and magazines is growing; and Islamic-themed art and fiction are becoming more popular. The role of Islam in politics and society, as well as the growth of terrorism, are discussed widely on television and radio and in numerous public forums, including during the last presidential debates. At the same time, there are also concerns that more extremist strains of Islam are finding converts, gaining political strength in some local areas, and stoking communal violence and terrorism.

Bolded- this is true but some of the reasons for the tolerance may not be understood by the authors. Is it tolerant largely because it is non-orthodox? What happens to the tolerance as the religion becomes more Arabised, more orthodox, as it surely is in Indonesia?


Religious extremist groups in Indonesia continue to be responsible for harassment, intimidation, and acts of violence. Members of these groups intimidate judges and local officials and vandalize and destroy buildings belonging to religious minorities, including Christian churches, Hindu temples, and Ahmadiyah mosques and religious centers. In September 2005, the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) organized protests and intimidated lawyers and judges during the trial of three Christian women who were being tried for allegedly “proselytizing” to Muslim children. Through the intimidation of government officials and the instigation of mob violence, the FPI and another group, the “Alliance for Anti-Apostates,” effectively closed at least 50 Protestant churches in West Java during 2005, a significant increase from the previous year; churches were burned or destroyed by mobs or closed by government officials after intense community pressure. In some cases, police did little to stop the violence and on occasion, even participated in it. In January 2005, six Hindu temples in Bali were vandalized. In March 2006, a Hindu temple was bombed in Central Sulawesi. Twice in July 2005, mobs attacked the Ahmadiyah compound in Bogor, West Java. Despite the presence of security forces, several buildings were burned. No assailants were arrested in these attacks. In September 2005, mobs attacked Ahmadiyah mosques and other property in Cianjur, West Java. Police did arrest 45 suspects in that attack and are pursuing prosecution against 12 of those arrested. However, as a purported protective measure, local government officials banned all Ahmadiyah activities in Cianjur. In March 2006, there were reports that mobs attacked the homes and private property of Ahmadiyah members in Prapan and Ketapang, Lombok. At least 132 people were expelled from their homes. In addition to violence against members of and property belonging to religious minorities, extremist groups also harass and close down nightclubs, bars, and cafes.

Trial Scene
Muslim radicals ensure justice is done against three Christian women accused of proselytizing.

Attacks on Ahmadiyah religious communities followed the issuing of a fatwa in July 2005 by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) condemning Ahmadiyah as “deviant” from Islam. In addition to the Ahmadiyah fatwa, the MUI issued religious edicts banning interfaith prayer, marriage, and inheritance, as well as the notions of pluralism, liberalism, and secularism. According to Indonesian human rights groups, the MUI fatwas undermined public support for projects of interfaith dialogue and public discussions on the compatibility of Islam, democracy, and human rights. Intellectuals, scholars, and activists engaging in these activities have been intimidated and their lives and property threatened. Though the MUI is not a government entity and its fatwas do not carry the force of law, the Indonesian government has not publicly addressed the MUI edicts or distanced itself from their content. However, the Indonesian government has consistently refused calls for an outright ban on the Ahmadiyah religion and publicly supports constitutional guarantees to freedom of religion for that community.

No it doesn’t, the Minister for Religion has threatened Ahmadiyah with charges of heresy. The government is put in far too good a light here, they have barely lifted a finger to protect the Ahmadiyah.


The Indonesian government continues to restrict the construction and expansion of houses of worship. In the past, Joint Ministerial Decree 1/1969 (“Regulation on Building Houses of Worship) required “community approval” for the expansion of existing or the building of new religious venues. In areas where Christians, Hindus, or Muslims were the minority, new building permits were often difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. In addition, in some places, extremists pressured local government officials to revoke permits of longstanding places of worship and destroyed those operating without permits. In response to public criticism, the Ministry of Religious Affairs issued a new Decree (Joint Ministerial Decree 1/2006), which appears to impose new restrictions and make it even more difficult to obtain a permit. In replacing the 1969 vague “community approval” standard, the new decree requires religious groups with 90 or more members to circulate a petition and get 60 local residents to support the building or expansion of their religious venue. The petition then has to gain majority approval from both district and provincial panels of religious leaders. The membership of the panels will be chosen proportionally by the number of religious adherents in the region.

Protestant and Buddhist leaders oppose the measure because many of their religious venues have fewer than 90 members. Other religious leaders believe that extremist groups will intimidate anyone who signs his or her name to a public petition. In addition, critics of the new decree argue that the proportional membership of the district and provincial panels does not protect the rights of religious minorities and opens the permit process to corruption. Muslim leaders are divided about the new decree’s impact. Hasyim Muzadi, head of the Nahdatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, declared that the new decree was more restrictive than the previous one. However, the Chairman of the National Assembly, Hidayat Nur Wahid, pointed out that “restrictive regulation”¦is needed to avoid sectarian conflicts among religious communities.” The Commission will continue to monitor the implementation of the new decree in the coming year.

The Catholic church, in a dismal display, formally accepted the new law although some dissent was heard. See also the MUI view.

Sulawesi & Maluku

Although the annual number of dead and injured continues to decrease, communal violence in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus continued in the last year, threatening to re-ignite Christian-Muslim conflict that claimed thousands of lives between 1999 and 2001. At least 13 people were killed and 80 injured in the Malukus last year in separate attacks on a marketplace, a crowded bus, and a police station. In March 2005, a hand grenade exploded in a Muslim neighborhood in Ambon. In retaliation, Muslim residents attacked a bus carrying Christians. In August 2005, a bomb exploded in an Ambon market, injuring bystanders and destroying property. Police wounded two suspects in this bombing. In Central Sulawesi, at least 37 people were killed and 104 injured in communal violence in the past year. In May 2005, two bombs exploded in a central market in the predominately Christian town of Tentena, killing 24 people. In October and November 2005, eight Christian girls and one Muslim girl who was mistaken for a Christian from Poso were killed in three separate attacks. Three of the girls were beheaded. In January 2006, a bomb exploded at a “pork butcher” in the city of Palu, killing several customers. Local religious leaders condemned the attacks as the work of “outside extremists” and expressed continued support for expanded security and reconciliation efforts.

See another view of the conflict in Poso.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono publicly condemned the violence in Central Sulawesi and sent police investigators from Jakarta to coordinate investigations. However, no arrests have been made in any of the cases of communal violence that occurred in the past year. Some local leaders in Central Sulawesi laud recent efforts by local police to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those involved in past violence. At the same time, they are critical of security forces for not taking more effective measures to prevent the violence. Extremist groups, including members of Mujahadin Kompak (MK), a militant offshoot of Jemaah Islamiyah, are known to operate in Central and South Sulawesi. These militant groups were frequently responsible for attacks on religious minorities and for instigating mob actions to restrict religious activities. It is widely believed that concerted government efforts to reduce the activities and influence of militant groups would do much to improve religious freedom conditions in Indonesia.

The Indonesian government has made some progress holding accountable those responsible for past communal violence in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus. Suspects in the May 2005 Tentena bombing and the shooting of a local minister have been detained, though no arrests have been made in these cases. According to the State Department, Central Sulawesi government officials have called for the investigation of members of the security forces involved in religious violence during the 1999-2001 period and have named a senior police officer as a suspect in a 2004 church bombing. There remain concerns, however, about judicial independence and the disparate sentences given Muslim and Christian defendants in cases of past religious violence. Such disparities continue to fuel grievances that exacerbate religious tensions.

See the case of Fabianus Tibo.


Human rights organizations have been critical of the role played by the Indonesian armed forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, TNI) in regional conflicts throughout Indonesia. The TNI operates independently of civilian political control and only 30 percent of its revenue is allocated by the National Assembly, the Indonesian legislature; the other 70 percent comes from the TNI’s private business investments and other ventures. The TNI held expansive political and economic power during the former Suharto regime, though they have recently relinquished their reserved seats in the National Assembly. President Yudhoyono has cautioned that a move to assert civilian control of the TNI too quickly could have negative consequences for democratic stability in Indonesia. Nevertheless, reigning in the TNI’s power and holding its senior officers accountable for human rights violations is a critical element of addressing ongoing sectarian violence and other human rights problems in Indonesia.

The State Department’s 2005 human rights report states that in the past year, the TNI continued to prosecute junior officers and enlisted men for human rights violations. However, senior officers are rarely held accountable for abuses against civilians, including extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and drastic limits on freedom of movement and association. For example, senior officers escaped with small sentences, most of which were overturned on appeal, for the atrocities committed in 1999 in what is now independent East Timor.

Some of the very officers indicted for human rights abuses in East Timor, including Timbul Silaen and Eurico Guterres, now hold similar positions of authority in the eastern region of Papua. Papua’s population has swelled in recent years, due to large flows of economic migrants and other civilians fleeing conflict elsewhere in Indonesia. Indigenous Papuans are predominantly rural and Christian, while the migrant groups are predominantly urban and Muslim, creating a volatile mix similar to that found in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus at the time those violent sectarian conflicts erupted. The presence of Silaen and Guterres in the area has raised fears that additional sectarian conflict and human rights abuses will occur in Papua.

Last year, the United States restored military-to-military relations with the TNI, which had been suspended because of the TNI’s role in perpetuating violence in East Timor during 1999 and allegations of its involvement in the killing of two American teachers in Papua in 2002. In November 2005, the United States started a small International Military Education Training (IMET) program and a Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program in order to boost the TNI’s counter-terrorist capabilities. In the past, the Commission recommended that any renewed military assistance give priority to reform of the Indonesian military, including human rights training and technical assistance for legal tribunals and other mechanisms to hold military officers accountable for human rights abuses. It is too soon to evaluate the effectiveness of U.S. military assistance on these priorities. The Commission will continue to monitor U.S. military assistance to Indonesia and its relation to the general situation for human rights, including religious freedom, in that country.


Aceh Caning
Woman being caned in Aceh for gambling offences.

In August 2005, the Indonesian government concluded a comprehensive peace agreement with the insurgent group Free Aceh Movement (GAM). The agreement ended a thirty year conflict that had resulted in significant human rights abuses. As of this writing, the agreement remains in place and there is optimism that a lasting peace is possible in Aceh. However, the peace agreement does not overturn Aceh’s special autonomy status, which allowed the province to establish and implement sharia law. In 2001, sharia police, locally know as Wilayatul Hisbah, were set up to enforce religious norms. Initially, these “police” were often confined to mosques and other religious institutions. Since the peace agreement was signed, however, sharia police have become more visible. There are reports of sharia police issuing fines and meting out other punishments to Muslims found gambling or consuming alcohol, unmarried couples found engaging in “immoral” behavior, or women found without headscarves. Public caning punishments are now commonplace in some towns, particularly for gambling. Non-Muslims are exempt from sharia provisions in Aceh.

Not for much longer: Also The Trouble with Syariah.

A vocal and influential minority of Indonesians continues to call for implementation of sharia law throughout Indonesia. An August 2002 proposal to implement sharia at the national level was withdrawn from consideration by the National Assembly because it did not have sufficient support to pass and was opposed by the country’s two largest Muslim organizations. Efforts to revive the legislation continue and could reemerge during the current National Assembly session. In addition, there are efforts to enforce Islamic law at the municipal and regional levels. In South Sulawesi, Madura, and Padang, West Sumatra, local authorities required women to wear headscarves and men to follow traditional Islamic rituals on Fridays. Similar practices were already put in place in parts of West Java, including Cianjur, Tasikmalaya, and Garut. In August 2005, a court in Surabaya issued a two-year sentence to a man [Yusman Roy] who offered a public prayer in Indonesian instead of Arabic, after religious leaders argued that the prayer insulted Islam. Municipal governments in Kendari, Medan, and Palembang closed discos, massage parlors, bars, and karaoke establishments during Ramadan. Non- Muslims were exempt from the new laws. Muslim women’s groups, however, expressed fear of reprisals if women in these areas chose not to comply with the laws.

Yusman Roy
Yusman Roy – serving two years for blasphemy against Islam.

See more on sharia application. Many well-known cases of blasphemy are ignored, such as the Lia Eden case.

Religious Education

In June 2003, the National Assembly passed an education bill, which, if enforced, would require both public and private schools to provide religious instruction to their students. In the last year, the government had still not implemented the most controversial provisions of the law.

The “controversial provisions” are that Christian schools would have to provide instruction in Islam for any Muslim students. Vice versa for Muslim schools.


The Indonesian government continues to encourage inter-religious tolerance and cooperation. Some Indonesian government officials pursued ongoing work with local Muslim and Christian community leaders to diffuse tensions in conflict areas. There are also a growing number of inter-religious non-governmental organizations initiating discussions on pluralism, democracy, religious tolerance, and human rights.

Overall a good summary of the situation (with perhaps too much reliance on in-English reports rather than local media) although taking a too rosy view of the Indonesian government’s position on some of the problems outlined.

12 Comments on “Religious Freedom Report”

  1. yukizzolicious says:

    Haha another double standards of the US. Wondering if there’s religious freedom watch on the US hmmmph! Practice what you preach.

  2. Rockstar says:

    Dude the problem is not the US, stop worrying about other country. You gotta admit it there are so many issues concnerning the relationship between religions in Indonesia. Christians are being a subject of discrimination, you gotta admit it.

    So yeah don’t laugh because it’s not funny, but rather think, this does sound like Indonesian mentality, can’t accept criticism from others.

  3. rad says:

    So yeah, there are some dismal things happen & some good things too. Although I highly doubt that Ahmadiyah & Jehovah’s Witness should even be allowed to exist. They’re heretical

    BTW I take offense on the above saying of Indonesian mentality, it seems that if the guy above is from US, he should not be quick to judge about other people mentality. Vice versa to the Indonesian above.

  4. Mel says:

    When you look at that picture of the caning, don’t you think “Goodness, in what past world does that belong, this is 2007” ?

  5. Bill says:

    I like your site. Glad you do it.

    I’m also wondering where you got that photo of caning in Aceh. I am working on a book about Aceh and would love to know who I could contact about the photo.
    thank you

  6. Janma says:

    The local balinese banjar just down the street from my studio has three ‘warung muslim’ in it doing business everyday. They used to be set up in the temple courtyard believe it or not, and when the temple was renovated they moved to the banjar. Can you imagine a ‘warung hindu’ in a mosque courtyard?

  7. Adi says:

    I am a first time reader of “Indonesia Matters” and I find it quite interesting,particularly when it includes religion.Maybe because of my Indonesian heritage (my dad is from Medan and my mom is Sundanese)I like to know what’s going on in Indonesia be it good or bad.I am a Singaporean.
    I am a Muslim,and I find that Islam has been buried under layer upon layer of traditions,superstitions and innovations.True Islam is hardly recognize able today!
    The English word equivalent for ” Muslim” is submitter,”Islam” is submission.”Allah” is not a name but an Arabic word for “God”.
    If I were to implore God in English,will it be accepted?Is God an Arabic entity?Sadly millions of so called Muslims think so!Must the Quran be read in Arabic?Does it make sense to read the Quran( if you are not Arab or speak the language)in Arabic without understanding it’s meaning?Read the Quran in the language of your mother tongue,if your mother tongue is Indonesian then read it’s translation in Indonesian.That is what the Quran is for-our manual for our daily lives and the hereafter.
    I recalled being told by my “Muslim”friends that in Indonesia Islam is “strong”meaning that the “Muslims there are “perfect” especially in Aceh and the majority of Indonesians are “Muslims”.When I heard of the news of the devastating Tsunami that hit Aceh,I was not surprised.Why?
    What have “Muslims” done to Islam is the “raison d’être “.
    “There is no compulsion in religion,” this is a command from God in his book to humanity- The Quran,the final testament.How many “Muslims” are aware of this – not the majority.The majority of “Muslims” have made their scholars,ulama etc into “lords” of religion – they obey their “lords” not God.Islam practiced today by the majority is contrary to the teachings as decreed by God in the Quran,as the Prophet Muhammad had said ” My Lord,my people have deserted the Quran.”
    Misconceptions abound in today’s Islam,laws not sanctioned by God are enforced.”Fatwa” have no basis in the Quran neither do “Sharia” There is only the Hadiths of God (Quran) and his Sunnah (System) not the “hadiths and Sunnah”of Muhammad falsely attributed to him by his enemies and hypocrites of Islam.
    In a nut shell, true Islam has been distorted beyond recognition.The Quran (written by God)the only book that true muslims should adhere to,has been abandoned,”Muslims” now have another book at their disposal,the “Hadiths”( man made collections of sayings falsely attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) from which “Muslims” can find anything they wish to
    justify their corrupted needs.Are “Muslims” really Muslims?Have they really question their attestation of faith to be valid.Are they obeying the commands in the Quran to the letter ?
    The command to verify every information by using one’s eyesight,hearing and brain as decreed by God in the Quran [17:36] is to be taken seriously as to abolish false information and misunderstandings for the true
    The Quran is for all humanity and submitting to God Alone is the key to happiness now and the hereafter.

    I don’t mean to offend any Muslim reader or impose the contents of this letter upon anyone but I must say that certain findings in this letter are based upon what I read in the Quran.
    God willing we will all be blessed with the truth.

  8. Nay says:

    If you’re only going to accept certain parts of your religion and not others, you have to ask yourself intelligently upon what basis you accept certain aspects and not others.

    When man still has to rationally and intelligently pick and choose which laws he wants to follow it’s a hard case to make then, that man should follow “God’s laws.”

    Why not go one step further and make up your own laws based on reason and logic, and ignore religious practice which is irrational and unreasonable.
    Do you really need to simulate the existence of a “higher power” in your mind?

  9. Adi says:

    Peace to all,

    I read in today’s Straits Times (the main English newspaper in Singapore) that Scientists have discovered a planet similar to Earth orbiting a star 600 million light years away.It was confirmed by NASA along with other discoveries by it’s Kepler telescope,which was launched on a planet hunting mission in 2009.
    “A phenomenal discovery in the course of human history,”Dr.Geoff Marcy of University of California,Berkeley,one of the pioneers of planet hunting outside Earth’s solar system said in an e- mail.

    Quran [65:12] God created seven universes and the same number of earths.The commands flow among them.This is to let you know that God is Omnipotent and God is fully aware

    This information was in the Quran that was released into Prophet Muhammad’s memory with Gabriel’s mediation about 1400 years ago.

  10. Adi says:

    @ Nay. ..You are missing the main point here..I wrote what have “Muslims done to Islam?”
    The main theme is about the corruption of Islam and I have stated the facts supporting it based on the Quran.
    “There is no compulsion in religion…” you and I are given freedom of choice.
    I have chosen mine.

  11. Goldfinger says:

    The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life publishes report on religion and restrictions thereon every years. Regrettably, though not surprisingly, Indonesia ranks among the countries with the most restrictions placed on and conflict caused by religion in the world. Google it. It’s all there.

    Wittgenstein once said that if you wanted to know whether a man was religious, it was better to observe him than to ask him. Indonesians are religious people in the formal, bureaucratic, ritualistic sense, but hardly more spiritual or moral than other peoples, including those who practice no religion. That, in and by itself, should be a damning indictment of how religion is practiced and understood in Indonesia.

    Islam will be judged, not by the lofty rhetoric and ideals of its scriptures or the idealistic example of its prophet from millenia ago, but rather by the mundane, every day actions and attitudes of Muslims in the here and now. So far the verdict is still out.

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