Monday, March 20, 2006

Indonesia - Religious Liberty Crumbling (Digest version)

"From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

- appeal to Constitutional Court denied
- Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) No 1, 1969, reviewed.

A joint ministerial decree issued in Indonesia in 1969 established guidelines for religious groups wanting to build places of worship. Religious groups had to apply for a permit, but a local council could only grant a permit if locals living in the immediate vicinity of the proposed church, mosque or temple gave their consent. In practice, this made it difficult for non-Muslims to receive a permit to construct a place of worship, particularly in strongly Muslim districts. This in turn created a burgeoning house-fellowship movement, whereby unregistered fellowships meet for prayer and worship in homes, offices or shops.

The growth of radical, fundamentalist, political and militant Islam in Indonesia through the 1990s and especially since October 2001 has given rise to a campaign of intolerance against apostasy and church proliferation. Apostasy and Christian expansion were key issues at the annual national meeting of the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI: Indonesia's most senior body of Islamic clerics), in Jakarta in July 2005. Clerics complained that Christianity was making "worrying inroads" and that Christian preachers were converting Muslims at "an alarming rate", while the "phenomenon" of church construction was "most disturbing". The MUI subsequently issued an 11-point fatwa that, among other things, describes liberal interpretations of Islam, secularism and pluralism as being against Islam.

The fatwas and the MUI's relationship with the Anti-Apostasy Movement Alliance (AGAP) led to a surge in Islamic fundamentalist and militant activity against Christian ministries and churches. In September 2005 three Christian women, Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun, were imprisoned in West Java after being found guilty of "Christianisation" of Muslim children (introducing Christianity to Muslim children) For background see: WEA RLC "Indonesia: Removing enticements to apostasy" 2 Sept 2005 <>. Islamist clerics decried the women's Sunday School ministry as "incitement to apostasy". Meanwhile, dozens of fellowships and churches have been forced to close under threat of violence.


According to AKI, Theophilus Bela, the secretary-general of the Indonesian Committee on Religion and Peace (ICRP), urged the government to revoke the joint ministerial decree because, he said, it was responsible for attacks against churches. ''The joint ministerial decree is against the Pancasila state ideology and 1945 Constitution, as well as human rights. It isn't just but instead has the potential to tear apart religious harmony and limit people from worshiping,' he said.'

But the Religious Affairs Minister and the Home Affairs Minister, have, like the Constitutional Court judges, failed to uphold the principle that religious liberty (as defined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) is a fundamental human right. Rather, Indonesian policy appears to be that Islam will be protected, Islamists will be appeased, and the right to worship will be reduced to a concession subject to the whim of locals who are increasingly under the intimidating influence of intolerant, pro-Sharia Islamist preachers and militants."

Elizabeth Kendal


1) Christian minority wary of rules to set up places of worship.Jakarta, 20 Feb 2006.
(AKI/Jakarta Post)

2) Changing rules for building churches (Overview) 8 March 2006

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