Christian Rights Group Urges Indonesia to Protect Religious Freedom

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has called upon Indonesia's government to safeguard religious freedom and pluralism in the wake of attacks on Christians and Ahmadiyya Muslims in the country.

The Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace in Indonesia says that at least 30 attacks on churches have been reported so far this year, with extremist Islamist groups targeting churches in West Java in particular.

In one attack earlier this month, an elder of the Batak Christian Protestant Church in Bekasi was seriously injured when he was stabbed while on his way to a service.

In August, members of the Islamic People's Forum and the Islamic Defenders Front attacked one congregation that was meeting in the open air after the forced closure of its church.

The Ahmadiyyas, a Muslim sect, are also facing challenges to their religious freedom after Indonesia's Minister for Religious Affairs, Suryadharma Ali, suggested they should be banned.

The Forum of Religious Freedom Solidarity, a coalition of religious human rights and religious organizations in Indonesia, have voiced concern over the threats to religious freedom.

The coalition held a peace march to the State Palace and delivered a letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in which they called upon the government to protect religious minorities and defend religious freedom.

In a statement, Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of U.K.-based CSW, recognized Indonesia's proud tradition of religious pluralism, freedom and harmony, which he said could be an example to the world of a Muslim-majority nation that promotes these values.

"This tradition is under threat, however, as a result of growing Islamist extremism," he continued, "and we urge the Indonesian authorities to do all they can to protect religious minorities, promote religious freedom, and bring the perpetrators of violence to justice."

"Extremism and hatred must not be allowed to hijack Indonesia's transition to democracy and violence and discrimination cannot be allowed to grow with impunity," he concluded.

According to the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, there have been 64 cases of attacks on religious freedom by hard-liners this year, ranging from physical abuse to preventing groups from performing prayers and burning houses of worship.

In 2009, there were only 18, and in 2008 only 17.