A minister is rejecting claims made by the United Nations high commissioner on human rights that the government has done little to stop religious violence in the nation.
Law and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsudin claimed that the government had indeed taken measures to ensure that all citizens, regardless of their religion, could practice their faith freely.
Amir described the violent attacks directed at religious minorities as relatively minor problems for a populous nation that was too much for the government to manage.
“There might be places where attacks on certain minority groups occurred. However, they are incidental,” Amir told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
“Indonesia has a population of over 240 million who are spread over a vast area. We have too many people to deal with,” according to the minister.
Amir said that the government had not received adequate recognition of its protection of minority groups, placing the blame with the media.
“We’re always misunderstood. We, for example, have always given protection to members of the Taman Yasmin Christian Church [GKI] to prevent them from being attacked,” Amir said.
However, Amir told only half the story: While the police protect the congregation as it holds religious services at an alternate site, the central government has failed to challenge Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto, who has defied court orders to open the congregation’s original church.
Amir offered a similar defense of the government in the case of majority Muslim attacks against the minority Shia community in Sampang, East Java, that killed two.
“We have also done the same in Sampang, when we moved the Shia to a shelter in order to protect them from future attacks. However, people consider these attempts as a restriction of the freedom of the minority groups,” he said.
Amir said that he had made this clear to United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights Navanethem Pillay when the pair met earlier this week. “I have explained this to Ibu Pillay with a hope that she can understand the context of what really happened,” he added.
The UN commissioner, who met with victims of religious persecution in Indonesia, said that she was “distressed to hear accounts of violence, attacks, forced disappearances and other discrimination and harassment, as well as the police’s failure to provide protection”.
Among those whom the commissioner met was Ummi Kulsum, the wife of Sampang Shia leader Tajul Muluk. Tajul was convicted and imprisoned for blasphemy immediately after Sunni Mulsims burned his community to the ground.
The wheels of justice have spun slower for the Sunni Muslims who instigated the attacks. Their trials started only last week.
Ummi told the commissioner that the Shia who took shelter in a local sports center in Sampang after the attack remained under threat from Sunni Muslims who want to forcibly convert them.
Pillay also met with representatives from the GKI Taman Yasmin, the Filadelfia Church from Bekasi and members of the Ahmadiyah community.
The commissioner told the Post that she received no clear answers from Indonesian government officials on their efforts to aid the persecuted.
Pillay said that she urged the government to amend or repeal laws used to discriminate against religious minorities, including the 1965 Blasphemy Law, ministerial decrees on building houses of worship and religious harmony and the 2008 joint ministerial decree on Ahmadiyah.
Amir said he welcomed Pillay’s recommendations. “We appreciate her advice. She is a credible person in a position to give advice on human rights”, he said.