Indonesian president accused over church attacks
Published Date: February 3, 2010
Catholic and Protestant leaders have blamed Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for recent church attacks, saying that he failed to maintain religious freedom during the first 100 days of his second term.
Recently re-elected Yudhoyono’s 100-day program “was not clear,” Christian leaders told UCA News.
“The number of church attack cases increased. Eighteen Catholic and Protestant churches were attacked, including arson attacks at Protestant churches in North Sumatra,” said Fr Benny Susetyo, executive secretary of the Indonesian Catholic bishops’ ecumenical and interreligious affairs commission.
Batak Society Christian Church and Pentecost, two Protestant churches in Padang Lawas district of North Sumatra province were burned on Jan. 23 by groups protesting religious activities conducted in both churches.
Yudhoyono was blamed for not pushing hard enough for an apolitical religious affairs minister.
“It is different from previous cabinets whose religious affairs ministers were not from any particular political parties. Hence, they could focus on their programs,” Fr Susetyo said.
He also lamented that the Interreligious Communication Forum (FKUB) at both national and regional levels could not work well because of bad management.
Reverend Gomar Gultom, general secretary of the Communion of Protestant Churches, also blamed Yudhoyono for the church attacks.
“I got the impression that he let those [attacks] happen,” he told UCA News.
He observed that within his first 100 days, Yudhoyono failed to take legal action against the perpetrators. “It is obvious that such attacks are against human rights,” he said.
Reverend Gultom also criticized interreligious dialogue programs organized by the religious affairs ministry, saying that they have stagnated at the higher levels and failed to touch the grassroots.
“Groups at the grassroots must be empowered to understand the law so they do not commit violence,” he added.
He suggested that the national government act firmly using existing laws to deal with any case of violence.
Jesuit Fr Johanes Nikolaus Haryanto, general secretary of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) reported 20 cases of church-building disputes, church attacks, and attacks on followers of religions regarded as cults during Yudhoyono’s first 100 days.
“It is against human rights and respect for religions,” he told UCA News.