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US Group Calls on Obama to Address Indonesia's Growing Religious Intolerance

US Group Calls on Obama to Address Indonesia's Growing Religious Intolerance

The United States Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF) has sent a letter to President Barack Obama requesting that he address Indonesia's growing religious intolerance when he attends the East Asia Summit on Nov. 19.

"There are strong political forces, terrorist networks, and extremist groups that continue to be serious obstacles to Indonesia's democratic trajectory and a source of ongoing violations of religious freedom and related human rights," read the letter addressed to Obama from Leonard Leo, Chair at the USCIRF.

According to the USCIRF, Indonesia is a historically tolerant nation. However, radical Muslim groups have recently gained more standing in the country, and Islamic, or Shariah, law holds prominent ground in some provinces in Indonesia.

The country has remained on USCIRF's "Watch List" since 2002.

"Religious radicalism and extremist groups, who have found converts in the country, are challenging Indonesia's well -- known tradition of religious tolerance and pluralism -- leading to sectarian and societal violence, terrorism, and religious freedom violations," read the USCIRF website.

"Segments of the Indonesian government, including the police, sometimes tolerate these groups’ activities," argues the USCIRF.

Critics have reported heightened radical Islamic behavior since the Arab Spring uprising which has reigned in the Arab world since in Dec. 2010.

Although Indonesia was not an official site of the Arab Spring uprisings, many argue that the Arab revolt has boosted confidence and given power to radical Islamic groups which were previously subdued.

In late October, Republican GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said that the Arab Spring uprisings may in fact be an "anti-Christian spring."

"Too often the police and local government officials tolerate or aid this violence and courts do not sufficiently punish perpetrators," read the USCIRF letter.

According to the U.S. State Department's Fall 2010 Freedom Report, radical Muslim groups used intimidation to close 28 churches in Indonesia, and the government only prosecuted a few perpetrators.

Critics question if Obama's potential plea for tolerance will prove futile.

CNN, reporting on Indonesian Muslims protesting earlier this month, quoted a Muslim leader of a participating group as saying: "We don't see the differences between Obama and [former U.S. President George W.] Bush. They both oppress Muslims. They both have blood on their hands."

Christians continue to worship in Indonesia, despite the growing religious intolerance. In 2010, 4,500 Christian worshippers gathered in Jakarta, Indonesia to express their faith.

"People think Indonesia is just a Muslim country, but look at all these people," Pastor David Nugroho told Time magazine in 2010. "We are not afraid to show our faith."

Obama is the first U.S. president to attend the East Asia Summit.