Incidents of church attacks and religious violence are spreading throughout Java, outside of traditional “hot spots” such as Greater Jakarta and West Java, activists said on Sunday.
The latest violent incident occurred in Sukoharjo, Central Java, on Oct. 13, when 12 people on motorcycles set fire to a Protestant church, said Theophilus Bella of the Jakarta Christian Communication Forum (FKKJ), which documents sectarian violence in Indonesia.
A day before, an attempt to set fire to St. Joseph Catholic church in Klaten, Central Java, was foiled and caused only minor damage, he said in a report made available to The Jakarta Post. On Oct. 17, radical Muslims threatened to attack a Catholic church in Karanganyar, Central Java.
Last month, an unidentified group attacked a Catholic church in Pasir regency, East Kalimantan, it said.
Most of the incidents over the last several years took place in Greater Jakarta and West Java, including attacks and forcible church closures that occurred with little or no intervention from the government, the report said.
According to the FKKJ, officials of Lubuk Linggau, Sumatra, said Huria Kristen Indonesia (HKI) congregation members lacked an official permit and could not conduct religious activities in their church, in apparent response to complaints from local residents.
The FKKJ said religious violence in Indonesia has escalated since the country gained independence in 1945.
Between 1945 and 1967, two churches were set on fire. Between 1967 and 1969, after former president Soeharto took power, 10 attacks were recorded.
Church attacks soared to 460 between 1969 and 1998, after Soeharto’s government issued a joint ministerial decree on establishing places of worship, which was seen as favoring the nation’s Muslim majority.
After the start of the reform era in 1998, the number of cases skyrocketed to 700, bringing the total number of church attacks between 1945 and 2010 to 1,200.
“It’s not wrong to say that Indonesia is the world champion of church burnings,” Theophilus said.
Catholic priest Benny Susetyo, executive secretary of the Indonesian Bishops’ Council, said that the attacks were due to weak law enforcement.
“Terror has increased due to negligence on the part of law enforcement officials,” he said. Benny added that violence against the churches had continued since perpetrators could act with impunity.
“This is dangerous because violence may escalate in other areas,” he said, adding that narrow-minded local administrations were also partly to blame.
Hendardi from the Indonesian human rights watchdog Imparsial said that attacks on religious groups in Central Java and other places were copycat attacks based on incidents in Greater Jakarta and West Java.
Imparsial said West Java had the most cases of violence perpetrated against minority religious groups.
“The attacks, especially in West Java, which have yet to be properly handled by the government, have set a bad precedent,” he said. (JP/lnd)