Indonesia police guard churches amid wave of hate


JAKARTA – Indonesian police stood guard outside churches on Wednesday after a wave of religious hate crimes swept the mainly Muslim country, shocking civil society and sparking international concern. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has been criticised for failing to stem the violence, ordered the police and military to go “all-out” against extremist groups behind the unrest.
“Every person should be guaranteed protection and safety, whatever his faith, ethnicity, race, political affiliation or profession,” the softly-spoken ex-general said in a speech. “Democracy does not mean the law of the jungle.” Indonesia’s image as a bastion of inter-faith harmony has been battered in recent months by violent Islamic extremism and marauding vigilante groups.
The wave of hate crimes targeting Christians and other minorities climaxed on Sunday when hundreds of enraged Muslims brutally murdered three followers of a heterodox Islamic sect in front of police, who did little to intervene. The country was still reeling over a disturbing video of the lynching when another crowd of Muslims rampaged through the streets of Temanggung, Central Java, Tuesday.
This time police responded with tear gas but again failed to stop the mob setting fire to two churches and vandalising a Catholic school, as they demanded the execution of a Christian who had been jailed for insulting Islam. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini described the incident as a “very serious demonstration of anti-Christian fanaticism”.
US Ambassador Scot Marciel said the United States “joins the vast majority of Indonesians in deploring the violence” against the Ahmadiyah sect, and noted “with concern” the church burnings in Central Java. Central Java provincial police spokesman Djihartono said almost 1,200 extra security personnel including troops had been deployed in Temanggung in response to Tuesday’s unrest.
Police said heavy security would also be in force at a Jakarta courtroom where radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir is due to stand trial on terrorism charges on Thursday. Hundreds of his supporters are expected to attend. Yudhoyono said police must act with “courage” to disband — “if necessary” — any extremist outfit found to have “clearly caused casualties”.
But national police chief Timor Pradopo, who freely admits police coordinate their actions with Islamic vigilantes, said the recent unrest was not the work of any group or organisation. “I don’t think the incident (in Temanggung) involved a group but rather individuals,” he told reporters. On Sunday’s murders, he said only that they were under investigation.
Members of the Islamic Defenders Front, a particularly active extremist group with ties to the police, meanwhile threatened to step up their campaign against Ahmadiyah unless the government banned the sect within 24 hours. In a 2008 speech that has received more than 500,000 hits on YouTube, the Front’s secretary-general Ahmad Sobri Lubis called on followers to “Kill Ahmadiyah wherever they are”. “Kill, kill, kill, kill. It’s OK to kill,” he said.
Human rights organisations have criticised Yudhoyono for failing to confront the sources of rising intolerance in the country of 240 million people, 80 percent of whom are Muslims.