Religious minorities speak out in Indonesia
FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. BEKASI, Indonesia — Tired of government inaction, Christians and other religious minorities in Indonesia are pushing back against rising violence by Islamic hard-liners.
For months, Christians in the industrial city of Bekasi have been warned against worshiping on a field that houses their shuttered church. They've arrived to find human feces dumped on the land and sermons have been interrupted by demonstrators chanting "Infidels!" and "Leave now!"
But last week, tensions finally exploded.
Twenty worshipers were met by 300 Islamic hard-liners, many of whom hurled shoes and water bottles before pushing past a row of riot police. The mob chased down and punched several members of the group.
"The constitution guarantees our right to practice our religion!" Yudi Pasaribu of the Batak Christian Protestant Church, vowing to return every Sunday until their request for a place of worship, made more than two years ago, is approved.
"And we want to do that on our own property, in our own church."
Indonesia, a secular country of 237 million people, has more Muslims than any other in the world. Though it has a long history of religious tolerance, a small extremist fringe has become more vocal in recent years.
Hard-liners have also become more violent, according to the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, a human rights group, which said there have already been 28 attacks on religious freedom in 2010, including everything from preventing groups from performing prayers to burning houses of worship.
The institute said there were 18 such incidents in all of 2009 and 17 in 2008.
Though most Indonesians are moderate and oppose violence, critics say President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's government has been slow to intervene because it relies heavily on the support of Islamic parties in parliament.