Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, in response to criticism from local and foreign institutions that say the country turns a blind eye to religious persecution, says Indonesia has always embraced religious tolerance.
Speaking at a press conference at his office on Tuesday, he said that he always told foreigners he met — whether they were officials or journalists — that Indonesia was “a country that respects its pluralistic society”.
The minister’s remark came ahead of an examination of the country’s human rights before the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee in Geneva later this week — the first examination after Indonesian ratified the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) eight years ago.
Suryadharma said Indonesia has six religious national holidays for Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, which are the only religions the country recognizes.
He lamented the fact that the media only focused on the plight of displaced Ahmadiyah and Shia followers, and the Christian GKI Yasmin congregation, whose church in Bogor, West Java, was sealed by the Bogor administration.
Members of the congregation are still barred from worshiping in their church despite a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that stipulated that the building permit for GKI Yasmin was legal and ordered the Bogor administration to reopen the place of worship.
The congregation has conducted their Sunday service in front of the State Palace every two weeks for the past year in their relentless effort to reclaim their church.
Suryadharma later cited Ministry data that showed an increase of places of worships.
According to him, mosques number saw an increase of 64 percent between 1977 and 2004, Christian churches an increase of 131 percent, Catholic churches 152 percent, Hindus temples 475 percent and Buddhist temples 368 percent.
However, local and international human rights groups have released numerous reports on the deteriorating situation and acts of intolerance in Indonesia over the past few years.
A study by the Wahid Institute, which promotes pluralism and peaceful Islam, showed the number of cases of religious intolerance in 2012 stood at 274, up from 267 in 2011. In 2010, the institute recorded 184 cases and 121 cases in 2009.
A report released by New York-based Human Rights Watch in February said Indonesia had been complicit in the persecution of religious minorities by failing to enforce laws and issuing regulations that breached the rights of minorities.
Only recently, members of the Sampang Shia community in Madura, East Java, were evicted from a sports complex where they had sought refuge for the past year after being forcefully displaced from their homes.
Suryadharma backed the relocation — which will see the whole community moved off the island — and cited security, saying it was “for the sake of humanity” as they needed a more suitable place than the sports stadium.
As for the Ahmadiyah and Shia, the minister said people should ask whether or not the rights of the majority Muslims were violated because their beliefs were disturbed by deviating principles. “Freedom has limitations,” he said.