By Worthy News Asia Service with Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos
JAKARTA, INDONESIA (Worthy News)-- An international Christian rights group has expressed "grave concerns" about increased violence against Christians and other religious minorities in Indonesia and urged the government to tackle Islamic extremism.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said Wednesday, June 8, that it visited survivors of clashes that killed several people, and spoke with officials of churches in cities Bekasi and Bandung, which "were forced to close".
CSW stressed several pastors complained that they "faced increasing harassment, threats and attacks." Pastor Palti Panjetan of the HKBP Filadelfia church in Bekasi said despite winning a court ruling granting permission to use their building, the local mayor has forbidden the congregation to use the church.
It was not immediately possible to verify the claim with local authorities, but Worthy News has monitored several similar incidents in the region where Islamic militants have influence.
"Even though the court said we can use the church, we are not able to. So we continue to worship outside, on the road," Panjetan said in a statement released by CSW. He said some parents even "baptized their children in the road." He also said his church has "communion in the road" but added that this "is not safe and not suitable."
"Radicals", he claimed, want to "push" his church "to the limit, to see how long we are prepared to worshipoutside before we surrender." However, "It might be a long time,” Panjetan warned.
Local Muslims who have supported the church have also faced intimidation from "radical Islamists" and militants, according to CSW investigators and local Christians.
Moderate Muslims, including the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, have been targeted, CSW said, referring to a February 6 incident when three people were killed and many others injured in the Cikeusik area of Banten province.
CSW told Worthy News that some 1,500 attacked 21 members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, citing four survivors of the attack who the group met in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital.
One survivor, who was not identified for apparent security reasons, was quoted as saying that the attackers mistreated him. “When the attackers caught me, they stripped me naked on the road, dragged me through a river, beat me with sticks and machetes and tried to cut off my penis," the man reportedly said.
"They bashed stones on my head, and dragged me around the village. One man used a bamboo spear to hit my eye. They shouted that I was an ‘infidel’ and should be killed. I lost consciousness," he added.
Another man escaped into the river, where he struggled to swim and was pursued by the mob who continued to throw rocks at him, shouting “Kill, kill”, CSW said. He reportedly escaped and hid in a bush for four hours.
Several of those interviewed by CSW said it was time for international intervention amid concerns over growing Islamic extremism in Indonesia.
In seeking to carve out a Muslim state, militants have in recent months shifted their focus towards Christians and moderate Muslim leaders as well as members of what they perceive as "deviant" sects, according to analysts. Other targets include security forces who have spearheaded the anti-terror fight.
Among other incidents in April, Islamic militants attempted, but failed, to bomb an Indonesian church ahead of Easter celebrations which would have occurred as thousands of people were arriving for services, police said.
They also wanted to film and broadcast the expected inferno but the plot was uncovered by security forces who were deployed at churches, 20,000 in the capital alone.
The 19 detained suspects reportedly led authorities to bombs planted beneath a gas pipeline near the Christ Cathedral Church just outside of Jakarta. Other bombs were left in bags not far from the entrance, investigators said.
Yet, CSW said, Indonesia's government has not done enough to protect minorities in what is the world's most populous Muslim nation of over 245 million people.
"The trends in Indonesia which our team found are a cause for serious concern," said CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas. "Indonesia’s long and proud tradition of pluralism, religious harmony and religious freedom is at risk if the government of Indonesia does not protect minorities, prosecute perpetrators of violence and curb radicalism in all its forms."
He said his group has urged Indonesia to invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief to visit this year and "to conduct an independent investigation" into violations of religious freedom.
"Indonesia, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council and the G-20, and as chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, has a responsibility to act. It is in its own interests to do so, for its reputation is at stake.”
Indonesian officials have made clear however that the secular nation with more Muslims than any other in the world,has been battling extremists since 2002 when al-Qaida-linked militants attacked two nightclubs on Bali island, killing 202 people, many of them foreign tourists.