2 Indonesia Church Leaders Attacked on Way to Service

Two Christian leaders in Indonesia were ambushed on their way to a church service Sunday, prompting a call from the predominantly Muslim nation's president for an immediate investigation.

The Sunday morning attack on the Rev. Luspida Simandjunktak and church elder Hasean Lumbantoruan Sihombing left the former with a concussion and the latter with a knife wound to the liver.

According to eyewitness reports, a gang of about seven riding on motorcycles ambushed the two church leaders at around 9 a.m. as they were coming within 500 meters of their church, the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) church in Mustika Jaya, Bekasi, West Java.

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After stabbing Sihombing and striking Simandjuntak on the head with a wooden plank, the attackers fled the scene. Both church leaders were then rushed to Mitra Keluarga Hospital in East Bekasi for treatment – Sihombing admitted in a serious condition and Luspida with a concussion.

Following the attack, Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, immediately called on authorities to investigate and hold accountable those responsible.

Yudhoyono, who relies heavily on Islamic parties in parliament, has been widely criticized in the media for failing to crack down on Islamic hard-liners, who were immediately suspected of carrying out Sunday's attacks.

While most people in Indonesia practice a moderate form of Islam and abhor violence, attacks on religious freedom by hard-liners have been steadily increasing, according to Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, a human rights group.

"It's largely because Yudhoyono's administration is always so slow to step in," said Setara activist Hendardi told The Associated Press.

"Violence has gone on in Bekasi for quite a while," added Indira Fernida from the National Commission on Human Rights, according to the Jakarta Post. "The police should take action to guarantee and protect this religious congregation."

According to Setara, there have been 64 incidents - ranging from physical abuse to preventing groups from performing prayers and burning houses of worship - in 2010. In 2009, there were only 18, and in 2008 only 17.

Following the latest incident, human rights groups and the church called upon the government to renew its commitment to protect the rights of the people to do worship.

Muslims account for 86.1 percent of Indonesia's population of 240 million. Protestant Christians, meanwhile, account for 5.7 percent, and Roman Catholics 3 percent.

In addition to being the world's third-largest democracy and the world's largest archipelagic state, Indonesia is home to the world's largest Muslim population.

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