Attacks on Christian Churches in Indonesia Rising: Activists

Jakarta. Indonesian human rights activists on Monday urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to investigate attacks on Christian churches, which they say have increased in the last two years.

From January to July, there were 28 cases of religious freedom violations by “intolerant groups targeting Christians,” up from 17 for the whole of 2008 and 18 in 2009, the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace said in a report.

Based on reports by churches and the media, the violations – mostly by radical Muslim groups – include forced closure of churches, revocation and delays in issuing building permits, and attacks such as torching and damaging churches, the institute said.

“These incidents are a breach of law and human rights. The President and the government have been very silent on this matter and have not provided enough protection to citizens,” Setara’s deputy chief Bonar Tigor Naipospos said.

“The attackers have become bolder as law enforcement is weak. We can’t let the incidents continue as peace in the country will be jeopardized,” he added.

The attacks, which mostly took place in Jakarta and West Java province, have made Christians “scared and anxious,” said Parasian Hutasoit, spokesman for Huria Christian Protestant Batak Church Filadelfia.

His church in Bekasi, an outer suburb of Jakarta, was forced to close in January after Muslim residents held protests there, saying it was built illegally.

“More than a hundred came to the church and demanded we shut down. We felt intimidated and discriminated against. We just want a place to practise our faith in peace,” he said.

Indonesian lawmakers in June demanded the government outlaw a violent Islamist vigilante group that has threatened “war” against Christians in Jakarta and urged mosques to set up militia forces.

The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) – a private militia with a self-appointed mission to protect “Islamic” values in the secular country – urged Bekasi authorities to introduce Islamic Shariah law and warned they would attack Christians unless the “Christianization” ceased.

Observers have said communal tensions could erupt into violence in Indonesia, a constitutionally secular country of 240 million people, 90 percent of whom are Muslim.

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