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Indonesia: Students Demand Safe Return to College

Friday, August 1, 2008 | Tag Cloud

Demonstrations turn violent at theological school; at least 17 injured.

JAKARTA (Compass Direct News) -- For a second consecutive night some 580 students from the Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology (SETIA) in East Jakarta slept in the lobby of Indonesia’s parliament yesterday following demonstrations against the school that left at least 17 students injured.

Urged on by announcements from a mosque loudspeaker to “drive out the unwanted neighbor,” hundreds of protestors shouting “Allahu-Akbar [God is greater]” and brandishing machetes, sharpened bamboo and acid continued to attack 1,400 students and school staff members even as they were evacuated over the weekend (July 26-27).

Besides the students in the parliamentary building, hundreds of others were evacuated to area denominational and medical facilities. The violence took place in spite of the efforts of 400 police officers summoned after tensions erupted on Friday (July 25).

Students and school staff taking refuge in the parliament building lobby asked government officials to return them to the college and guarantee their safety there. They talked with members of parliament, particularly from the Prosperous Peace Party (PDS), a Christian party led by Karol Daniel Kadang.

The parliamentary members promised the students, staff members and their lawyers that they would contact the head of the National Police Department to file a complaint about officers who failed to protect them during the July 25-27 violence that caused 85 million rupiahs (US$9,325) in damages.

Lawyers for the students and staff members also demanded capture of those responsible for the violence, as well as the firing of the mayor of East Jakarta, known as Murdani, for blaming the Christian students whom he referred to as a minority group that “should behave.”

A seemingly harmless incident touched off the protests. Local sources said that at 10:30 p.m. on Friday (July 25), two SETIA students, Julius Koli and Jonny Gontoh, returned to their dormitory to find a large rat, and one of them threw his sandal at it. The sandal fell onto a neighbor’s property, and when the two went there to retrieve the sandal, area residents shouted “Thieves!”

By midnight mobs had formed and were attacking two male dormitories. At 2:30 a.m., mobs had reached the third floor of one of the dormitories and were trying to burn it down. Local sources said that when they set the building on fire, gasoline spilled onto the leg of one of the attackers, and they ran away.

Another mob attacked the main building of SETIA with stones. Male students threw the stones back at them, and by 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning (July 26) local policemen arrived.

That night, area residents and Muslim extremist groups made their way past police checkpoints and some of them armed with metal clubs and machetes broke into a women’s dormitory, where male students had been transferred after female students were relocated. While the attackers ransacked the dormitory, those outside threw tear gas and home-made “Molotov cocktail” bombs at the structure.

Evacuations of students began that night. On Sunday evening (July 27), as police were further evacuating students and staff members, the attackers slashed some male students with swords. At least 17 students received treatment for injuries at the Christian University Indonesia Hospital Cawang, East Jakarta.

Among them were Gabriel Dessa, 21, and 22-year-old Yopiter M. Bessa, who both suffered stomach and hand wounds. Local sources said police officers did not arrest the assailants even though the assaults took place in front of them.

Motives for Attack

Key among motives for the attack, according to a member of the village assembly, was that area Muslims felt “disturbed” by the presence of the Christian college. They want it to be moved to another area.

SETIA officials explained to parliamentarians that the school, founded 21 years ago, has full legal permission and registration to operate. While now sitting in the middle of a populated area, when originally established the college was surrounded only by cornfields and banana plantations.

School public relations official Bayu Kusuma told the parliamentarians that the college has permission from the Religious Department, a special construction permit for a school/seminary building and registration with the official gazette (Berita Negara), along with documentation from the Republic of Indonesia.

Last year, the Muslim extremist Islamic Defenders’ Front demonstrated in front of the college, accusing it of having misapplied its permit.

Since 2007, protesters have held six demonstrations. On March 7, 2007, more than 200 Muslims set fire to construction workers’ quarters in an effort to keep SETIA from adding a fifth dormitory.

Three days later, some 300 people gathered to protest the construction, demanding that the school close. They claimed it was disturbing area residents when students sang during their classes and that students were evangelizing people in the area.

Government officials have brokered talks between the conflicting parties, without success.

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