© The Financial Times Ltd 2015 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
Last updated: August 27, 2012 2:30 pm
Human rights campaigners have condemned the Indonesian government for failing to tackle the rising tide of religious intolerance in the world’s most populous majority-Muslim nation, after a fatal mob attack on a group of minority Shia Muslims on Sunday.
Two members of a small Shia community on Madura island, east of Java, were killed and more than a dozen wounded when they were set upon by several hundred anti-Shia fanatics armed with machetes, according to human rights campaigners.
Indonesia had been singled out by world leaders such as Barack Obama, the US president, and David Cameron, the British prime minister, as a model of the compatibility of Islam, democracy and modernity.
But human rights activists say religious intolerance is on the rise in this country of 240m people, where 90 per cent are Sunni Muslims, and the government is failing in its duty to protect minority groups, whether they are Christians or members of Islamic sects such as the Ahmadiyah and Shia.
“This is evidence of worsening religious violence against minorities, whom the state is failing to protect,” said Usman Hamid, an activist for the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, a leading human rights campaign group.
Last month, Tajul Muluk, the religious leader of the Shia community in Madura, was sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted by a local court of blasphemy because of his religious teachings.
Ummi Hani, Mr Muluk’s sister, was among the Shia followers attacked on Sunday as they tried to take their children back to a religious boarding school on the main Indonesian island of Java.
“They forced me to get out of the car and started swearing at me,” she told a press conference organised by human rights activists in Jakarta. “They said they were going to rape me.”
Hundreds of places of worship including churches and Ahmadiyah mosques have been closed down by mobs or local officials in recent years, sometimes in violation of national laws guaranteeing freedom of religion.
Extremists have also targeted cultural events and concerts, forcing Lady Gaga, the US pop singer, to cancel a sold-out Jakarta concert in June because of the risk of violence.
Law enforcement authorities have come under criticism for failing to stand up to groups targeting religious minorities or to properly investigate and punish the perpetrators.
While the vast majority of Indonesian Muslims practise a moderate form of the faith, senior leaders including the president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, have been reluctant to speak out against the rising intolerance for fear of being accused of being “un-Islamic”, campaigners said.
Bucking this trend, Mr Yudhoyono called an emergency meeting with senior law enforcement officials on Monday to discuss the latest violent religious incident. But he was guarded in his public comments afterwards, saying that better intelligence could have prevented the attack, which “damaged the harmony in our society”.
Andreas Harsono, a Jakarta-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, an international campaign group, said that while the failure to protect minorities was worrying, he was also concerned about an increase in laws and regulations designed to enforce strict interpretations of Sunni Islam.
“Indonesia now has more than 150 sectarian regulations, so-called sharia regulations that discriminate against religious minorities and sexual minorities or force women to wear the veil,” he said.
Additional reporting by Taufan Hidayat in Jakarta
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.
Sign up for email briefings to stay up to date on topics you are interested in