Mon, 22 Dec 2003

Indonesia has progressed in religious freedom: U.S.

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia made progress in promoting respect for religious freedom, but in a number of cases the government failed to punish extremists responsible for murder and other crimes.

This was the view expressed in a yearend report on Indonesia issued by the United States, part of the International Religious Freedom Report 2003 released on Thursday. Covering the period of July 1 2002 to June 30 this year, it was compiled by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor under the Department of State and is accessible on

"The government made considerable progress in some areas, such as reducing interreligious violence in the Maluku islands and Central Sulawesi, and arresting and prosecuting terrorists and religious extremists for carrying out religiously motivated attacks," the report said. "However, in several cases the government failed to hold religious extremists responsible for murder and other crimes."

The report was compiled in line with the U.S. 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which instructs the Secretary of State to submit such a report to Congress. The report's summary states that religious freedom is a "central tenet of U.S. foreign policy."

The Indoenesia report said that while the death toll fell particularly in the Maluku islands, localized incidents of interreligious violence continued in Maluku and Central Sulawesi.

In the promotion of religious freedom the progress cited was the "cracking down on terrorists and other extremists who carried out attacks in the name of religion".

"After members of Jamaah Islamiyah ("Islamic Community" or JI), a terrorist organization committed to the goal of creating an Islamic super-state in Southeast Asia, bombed two nightclubs in Bali on Oct. 12, 2002 ... the government aggressively tracked down and arrested at least 32 individuals."

However there were "some setbacks for respect for religious freedom".

"The government did not prosecute Laskar Jihad members who had killed and terrorized Christians in the Malukus and Central Sulawesi, and allowed them to return to their homes, mostly in Java, without legal recriminations," the report said.

It cited the arrest of Laskar Jihad's chief, Jafar Umar Thalib, who was charged with inciting religious violence and two other relatively minor offenses. On Jan. 30 he was acquitted.

The report noted that the government generally respects the provisions cited in the Constitution that provides "all persons the right to worship according to his or her own religion or belief". Yet there are "some restrictions on certain types of religious activity and on unrecognized religions," it said, citing difficulties in gaining identity cards among minorities.

On "notable advances in interreligious tolerance and cooperation" the report cited that "In the first half of 2003 many Muslims and Christians in Maluku and Central Sulawesi worked together to repair mosques and churches".

However, "Increasingly, hard-line religious groups used pressure, intimidation, or violence to silence those whose message they found offensive".

It cited that in August 2002, Majelis Mujahiddin Indonesia prompted a private television network to stop airing a commercial that featured the phrase "Colorful Islam," aimed at promoting tolerance and diversity. The group said the ad insulted Islam.

The report also pointed out that "Islamic hard-liners sometimes criticized, threatened, or attacked other Muslims who held a more moderate view of the faith".

There were "strong indications" that many attacks on entertainment sites such as nightclubs "were linked to extortion and kickback schemes, rather than to religious motives".

The report also noted efforts by some political parties to amend the Constitution to adopt sharia nationwide.

The proposal was voted down. However the approval by the People's Consultative Assembly to change the Constitution to include a mandate that the government increase "faith and piety" in education set the scene for a controversial education bill that was passed in June, the report said.