Indonesia Christians Living in Fear of Growing Intolerance and Violence

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(Photo: Pioneers-USA)Members of a house church in a city in Indonesia gather to worship in the secrecy of someone's home, October 2011.

Growing religious intolerance in Indonesia is being heightened by the passivity and even "complicity" of the federal government in dealing with acts of violence perpetrated against religious minorities, International Christian Concern (ICC) has claimed.

Ryan Morgan, International Christian Concern's Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, says he is concerned by the "the inability or unwillingness of the government to firmly address the issue."

The world's largest Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia was for many years held in high esteem for its religious pluralism, based on its national motto "unity in diversity."

In 2010, President Obama even praised Indonesia for its "religious tolerance and democratic reforms" describing the country as an "example to the world."

Since then, things have changed dramatically as proven by a Human Rights Watch report published only last week. The report strongly condemns the Indonesian government's failure to protect religious minorities at federal level.

The human rights Satara Institute's records show an increase in the number of violent attacks on religious minorities. In the past three years, the number has increased from 216 in 2010 to 264 in 2012.

According to the human rights organization Christians were targeted more than any other group.

Talking to the Jakarta Globe, Bahrul Hayat, Indonesia's Secretary General of Religious affairs belittled the report saying, "Of course there are one or two cases," adding that his government's achievements in combating religious conflict "are better and getting better."

Despite the denial of the Indonesian official, examples of religious intolerance, especially against Christians, are numerous.

Obtaining a permit to build a church is often tedious and expensive and may take several years and building permits are often used as a pretext for attacks against churches by Islamic radical groups.

Recently, a number of churches on the island of South Sulawesi were attacked with Molotov cocktails. Though the buildings suffered minor structural damages, no one was reported injured.

Christian missionaries in Sulawesi told ICC that Muslim militant groups are very active on the island and the Sulawesi Christians live in fear that the violence they suffered between 1998 and 2003 would be repeated.