Local Administrations Main Violators of Religious Freedom

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has not delivered on his promise to protect religious freedom, according to human rights advocacy group the Setara Institute. The organization estimates that cases of religious intolerance metastasized by more than 50 percent in 2015 in comparison with 2014.

In its report on religious intolerance, the Setara Institute recorded 197 cases and 236 incidents of violence, most of which were conducted by local administrations.

“In 2014, the number of cases was only 134, with 177 incidents of violence,” Setara Institute researcher Halili Hasan said during the presentation of the report on Monday. “In 2015, there was a pretty significant rise.”

While protection for minority groups, including religious minorities, is outlined in Jokowi’s Nawacita, there has been lack of implementation in the field, according to Halili.

“The Nawa Cita’s impact at the local level is barely felt. We can see that from many restrictive policies, such as the banning of Shia celebrations, the banning of Asyura, [by Bogor Mayor Bima Arya], as well as prohibitions on certain houses of worship,” Halili said, adding that the institute had recorded 15 restrictive policies in 2015.

Most alarming of all, the report argues that instead of fulfilling its constitutional duty to protect the rights of its people to practice their religious beliefs freely and without discrimination, the government is actually the main actor in perpetuating religious intolerance throughout the country.

“Compared to 2014, violations to religious freedom conducted by state actors experienced a sharp increase, from 39 incidents of violence in 2014 to 101 in 2015,” said Halili. “One of the weak points in religious freedom protections is the state apparatus itself, especially at local level. This has to be taken seriously by the Jokowi administration.”

Setara Institute deputy chairman Bonar Tigor Naipospos argued that the central government should punish local governments that failed to protect religious freedom.

“Religions are under the domain of the central government, and thus the central government should have strategies on how to tackle this,” he said.

As for non-state actors, local people still routinely violate religious freedom, with 44 incidents of violence being attributed to unaffiliated citizens in 2015. This figure is followed by the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and the Islamic Mass Organization Alliance, both with 13 incidents of violence attributed to their name, and then the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) with 12, and religious and community leaders with eight.

“In nine years [since we started recording cases of religious intolerance], local people have always been a major actor. It means that the level for religious tolerance among our people is very low. It only takes a little trigger to create explosions,” Halili said. “The trend of non-state actors has been fairly consistent,”
he added.

In contrast, there has been a major change in the victims of religious intolerance in Indonesia. The Shiites have recently overtaken the Ahmadis as the most targeted religious minority group in the country.

“In the ‘top five’ list of victims of religious intolerance, there has been a significant shift. Last year [2014], it was the Ahmadis, but this year [2015], it was the Shiites,” said Halili.

In 2015, there were 31 cases of intolerance against the Shia community, followed by Christians with 29. The Ahmadis experienced 13 cases of intolerance.

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