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Jakarta Post

In Yogya, police and officials fiddle as hard-liners run rampant

  • Sri Wahyuni and Bambang Muryanto

    The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta   /   Sun, June 15, 2014   /  10:24 am
In Yogya, police and officials fiddle as hard-liners run rampant

Police line: A Pentecostal church in Pangkuan, Sleman, after it was sealed off by members of a mass organization.

Yogyakarta'€™s reputation as a city of tolerance for people of all religions is slipping.

In the latest in a series of incidents of religious intolerance, a Pentecostal Christian church in Pangukan, Sleman, was sealed off by an angry crowd and members of a mass organization after the congregation reopened the church for divine services on June 9.

This came only a few days after an attack led by men in traditional gamis (Islamic robes) on those assembled in the home of Julius Felicianus in Besi, also in Sleman, for a private rosary prayer session.

The incidents have moved the administration of Margoluwih subdistrict in Sleman said to take what they call '€œprecautionary measures'€, asking another congregation, the Isa Almasih Christian Church (GKIA) in Ngentak village, to stop holding divine services as of June 4.

Margoluwih subdistrict secretary Agus Wiseso claimed that officials had not yet received a license or a building permit for the church.

'€œWe did so in anticipation, to prevent members of mass organizations from outside the subdistrict from doing the same as they did to the church in Pangukan,'€ Agus said on June 6.

A local minister, Rev. Benardino Saryanto Wiryaputra, said he was worried that such cases were evidence of increasing intolerance in Yogyakarta.

He attributed part of the problem to stagnant interethnic and interfaith dialogue and a lack of follow-on community initiatives.

'€œIf dialog at the action level can be realized, intolerance can be eventually decreased,'€ Benardino said.

He also said the failure to bring perpetrators of intolerance and violence to justice had worsened the situation. '€œIf this continues to prevail, the struggle for plurality and diversity will get tougher and tougher,'€ Benardino said.

The key, he said, was local law enforcement and local government. '€œThey are the protectors of the people regardless of their faith.'€

Abdul Muhaimin, chairman of the Yogyakarta Interfaith Brotherhood Forum (FPUB), expressed a similar sentiment, saying that the hands-off approach of police and government officials in cases of religious intolerance guaranteed that such incidents would reoccur.

'€œNo '€˜chilling effect'€™ [against intolerance] has been created. It makes the perpetrators feel that they are untouchable and are even above the law,'€ said Muhaimin.

Civil society groups have been active in stemming intolerance in Yogyakarta, working through sympathetic Muslim congregations, promoting interfaith youth camps and holding conventions from the provincial to the international level, he added.

'€œThe domain is now the legal one,'€ he said.

Unfortunately, law enforcers have been subject to politics, among other things, according to Muhaimin.

'€œWe all know that these [hard-line] groups are just a minority. I am quite sure that they are just moved by some power using remote controls,'€ he said.

Official impotence in failing to prosecute the persecutors is obvious: The Yogyakarta Anti-Violence Community (Makaryo) said that none of the 18 cases of (mostly sectarian) violence committed in Yogyakarta since 2000 have been brought to court.

Regardless, Makaryo coordinator Benny Susanto is taking a legal approach, citing the provisions of the 2012 law on Yogyakarta'€™s special status guaranteeing differences.

'€œEspecially since Yogyakarta Governor Sultan Hamengkubuwono X has the title of '€˜sayidin panoto gomo'€™, which means the protector of religions,'€ Benny said.

Hamengkubuwono has previously said that after holding several discussions with hard-line Muslim groups, the time for talking was over.

The governor has told police not to tolerate religious violence, saying that it was time for law enforcers to act.

Seperately, Yogyakarta Police spokesperson Adj. Sr. Comr. Anny Pudjiastuti claimed that while officers remained serious in handling such incidents, it was difficult to find witnesses who would speak out against the perpetrators.

Abdul Muhaimin dismissed Anny'€™s statements as obfuscation, citing cases where the police did not name suspects when witnesses were available and evidence was clear.

'€œWhat we need here is the police'€™s good will, bravery and integrity in handling cases of violence and bringing the perpetrators to court,'€ Muhaimin said.

According to M. Najib Azca, a sociologist studying violence from Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta, intolerant groups began to emerge in the area after 1998.

However, the police '€” and their many local intelligence units '€” have not tracked the groups or taken action against those suspected of intolerance or religious-inspired violence.

Neither have the police been proactive in stopping such incidents, he said. '€œWhat they do when violence is committed is just muffle it, so as not to make it bigger.'€

Najib'€™s statements are backed up by a 2013 report from Human Rights Watch titled In the Name of Religion: Violating Minority Religions.

The report alleges that the National Police convinced some victims of religious persecution by Muslims to move away, or closed their places of worship under the pretext of maintaining '€œpublic order'€.

Najib said that intolerant groups might have the tacit support of political elites eager to exploit religious tensions for their own purposes.

However, Budi Setiawan, the imam and chairman of the Masjid Gedhe Mosque at the Yogyakarta Palace compound in Kauman, Yogyakarta, suggested another reason.

Budi said that some people may have an '€œinlander mentality'€, fearing domination by more powerful and wealthier minority groups, just as when the Dutch colonized what would later become Indonesia.

Such attitudes might explain '€” but not justify '€” intolerance. '€œBeing a majority in this predominantly Muslim country, they actually don'€™t need to feel that way,'€ he says.

Quoting Islamic teachings, Budi said that even during war in the time of Muhammad, Muslims were banned from attacking women, children and places of worship.

'€œI cannot understand why '€” in today'€™s era, while we are not in a war '€” they attack a place of worship and divine services,'€ Budi said.

The recent attacks have left some adherents of minority religions afraid.

'€œI am really scared of the violence,'€ said Olivia Lewi Pramesthi, a Catholic resident of the area.

Olivia said that after much deliberation, she decided not to go to mass at the province'€™s biggest church last Sunday, choosing a smaller church in Baciro instead.

'€œI have even been reminded by some friends not to hold a prayer meeting at my house once it is finished, because it is close to a mosque,'€ Olivia said.

However, Saryanto remains optimistic. Calling the recent violence small-scale, the minister said that wounds would heal and intolerance could be decreased.

'€œBut we really have to work hard on it,'€ Benardino says. '€œOtherwise, the small wounds could just grow.'€

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