Last Updated: Monday, 24 November 2014, 07:29 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Indonesia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 6 July 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Indonesia, 6 July 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e16d370a.html [accessed 24 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Questions around religious freedoms and persecution continued to surface throughout 2010 in Muslim-dominated Indonesia. Repeated cases of threats and violence against religious minorities – as well as the apparent inability of local authorities to respond to such issues – caused some observers to lament conditions for the country's religious minorities, including Hindus and Christians.

In its annual report for Indonesia, the AHRC said:

'The political influence of mainstream religious groups has increased, as have the fundamentalist views among them. Neither the government nor local officials and the police have taken a strong stance concerning the protection of religious minorities.'

Various reported incidents of violence or threats illustrated the situation throughout the year. In August, for example, the Jakarta Globe reported that 300 Islamic hardliners 'intimidated, bullied and assaulted' a priest and 20 Christians who were praying in a field in West Java. In December, 100 members of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) fled houses in which they were worshipping following angry protests from Muslims demonstrating outside. The Christians said they held the services in their homes because local authorities had refused to approve permits to build a church. Agence France-Presse quoted a local police official as saying law enforcement officers were powerless to stop the protests because the Christians were worshiping illegally. Similarly, some Muslims reported difficulties in opening mosques in areas where they form a religious minority, including the provinces of North Sulawesi and Papua.

Many local faith-based NGOs reported that incidents of religious intolerance appeared to rise during 2010. The Moderate Muslim Society (MMS), for example, reported 81 such cases during the year, compared with 59 the year before. The Jakarta-based Wahid Institute, meanwhile, reported 64 'violations of religious freedoms', a figure nearly double the previous year's tally. These included cases in which people or congregations were prohibited from attending houses of worship or forcing worshipers to denounce their beliefs. Police or local government officials reportedly committed almost three-quarters of the violations. Similarly, the Wahid Institute also noted 135 cases of 'intolerance' compared with 93 the year before. These included threats of violence or physical attacks, with individuals or religious societies responsible for the majority of such cases. 'The data clearly indicates deterioration in the guarantee of religious freedom and increasingly low levels of tolerance in society,' its report concluded.

A public opinion survey also suggested an increase in intolerance among the country's Muslim majority. The poll, conducted by the Centre for the Study of Islam and Society, declared 'a worrying increase' in intolerance among Muslims during the year compared with 2001, with a greater percentage of respondents indicating that they opposed the construction of churches or would be unhappy to allow non-Muslims to teach their children.

Rights groups expressed serious concerns over the treatment of the Ahmadiyya community after the Religious Affairs Minister reportedly stated that he planned to institute an official ban on the Islamic sect, which is considered to be heretical by some orthodox Muslims. HRW also reported several incidences of violence against Ahmadis, including one case in which a mob attacked an Ahmadiyya community south of Jakarta and burned down a mosque.

In April, the country's Constitutional Court upheld Indonesia's so-called 'blasphemy law' following a challenge from a group of petitioners. Rights groups called the decision a setback for religious freedoms.

Meanwhile, authorities in Aceh province continued their controversial implementation of Islamic Sharia law. Aceh is the only province in the country authorized to adopt Islamic laws. In a December report, HRW criticized two specific laws for infringing on the rights of women, children and the poor to make decisions about their lives. HRW reported that a 'seclusion' law in effect in Aceh, which is meant to punish adultery, has been used to criminalize even casual associations between unmarried individuals of the opposite sex. HRW also criticized the implementation of an Islamic dress law, calling it discriminatory because it places 'far more stringent restrictions on women than it does on men'. Women interviewed by HRW suggested law enforcement agencies use the law disproportionately to target the poor, as Sharia police were rarely seen reprimanding people with obvious signs of wealth.

Tensions in areas of the country where separatist movements are active continued to draw concern from rights groups. Indonesia granted the Province of Papua special autonomy status in 2001. However, many Papuans claim that the central government has failed to decentralize the full range of responsibility to the region, and there has been little improvement in the delivery of basic services and rights as promised. Moreover, the splitting of the province into two sections in 2003, has further frustrated the Melanesian indigenous population. The Indonesian government has announced that in 2011 it will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the implementation of Papua`s special autonomy. Many West Papuans continue to demand full independence from Indonesia, as well as international action on gross human rights violations reported in their community. The Vanuatu parliament passed a bill in June for the government to sponsor a move to grant Observer Status to West Papua at the regional organization, the Pacific Islands Forum.

In October, the AHRC released a graphic video from West Papua that showed members of the Indonesian military torturing indigenous people suspected of links to separatist groups. The group said the video showed authorities were quick to fall back on 'excessive force'. In January 2011, three soldiers accused of disobedience eventually faced court martial for the incident in a trial international observers saw as a 'test case' for the government. However, critics said the sentences handed down, each amounting to fewer than 10 months, did not fit the severity of the crimes.

In September, Amnesty International called on the government to investigate the in-custody death of Yusuf Sapakoly, a political activist from the Maluku Islands who died from kidney failure after prison authorities allegedly refused him adequate medical access. The 52-year-old had been imprisoned in 2007 after unfurling a symbolic flag advocating independence in front of the president.

Meanwhile, environmental issues continued to cause concern for the future of Indonesia's indigenous peoples, who are conservatively estimated to number between 30 and 40 million. An FPP report analysing the country's rapid redevelopment of indigenous customary land into oil palm plantations noted that women were increasingly suffering problems due to unequal development. Women responsible for household duties now face greater hardships accessing clean water or cooking supplies, as well as food and income, the report stated. Changes in traditional gender roles have reportedly resulted in an increase in domestic violence against women and children.

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