Jakarta: The year 2019 saw adherents of minority religions continue to struggle to exercise their beliefs, including trying to establish places of worship in many areas of the country.
The issue was raised again over Christmas when Christians in West Sumatra were banned from holding Christmas service and followers of Assemblies of God Church (GSJA) in Jambi had to celebrate Christmas outside of their sealed church.
But those were not the only incidents to take place in 2019.
In January last year, locals in Griya Martubung, Labuan district, Medan, North Sumatra held a demonstration against a house in their neighbourhood being used to accommodate a Bethel Church of Indonesia (GBI) congregation.
A similar event occurred in Indragiri Hilir regency, Riau, when a group of people proposed a petition to reject the establishment of a church, managed by the Pentecostal Church of Indonesia (GPDI), in their neighbourhood because they were “uncomfortable” with the presence of the church.
Despite these cases, the government has repeatedly claimed that the relationship among people from differing religions in Indonesia has improved as the 2019 inter-religious harmony index (KUB), compiled by the Research and Development Agency (Balitbang) of the Religious Affairs Ministry, sits at 73.83 out of 100, an increase from the previous year’s score of 70.9.
The rejections of the establishment of places of worship have claimed that the planned constructions do not meet the requirements of a controversial 2006 joint ministerial decree on maintaining religious peace.
The decree provides guidance for local leaders to maintain interreligious harmony, empowering regional interfaith communication forums (FKUB) and establishing places of worship in their regions.
The decree guarantees each citizen the right to build places of worship according to their religion if they meet several requirements:
They must collect at least 90 copies of ID cards of people inhabiting the surrounding neighbourhood of the places of worship, obtain an endorsement letter from the local administration, gain support from at least 60 locals living nearby the places of worship and obtain a recommendation letter from the local regional affairs office, as well as the FKUB.
Adherents of minority religions have found it difficult to meet such requirements.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, a researcher at human rights watchdog Setara Institute, said the decree caused major administrative impediments for the followers of minority religions as he pointed out several requirements that were deemed “too problematic”.
He criticised the obligation of adherents of minority religions to gather 90 members in the congregation to gain a permit before building a place of worship, stressing that such a requirement would be difficult to meet for adherents of minority religions, particularly for Christians, since Christianity itself had many denominations in the country.
He further said regulations contained complicated bureaucratic requirements, citing as an example that religious groups were required to obtain heaps of recommendation letters from local administrations.
Bonar also criticised a point in the decree stating that adherents of minority religions must obtain approval from at least 60 people living near places of worship as he deemed that the requirement was contradictory to Article 22 of Law No. 39/1999 on human rights principles.
Still, despite growing calls for revision, there has not been a firm decision by the government.
Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi only said he was considering revising the joint ministerial decree without providing further elaboration.
“We will think about it [revising the regulation], but in the meantime, we will maintain the prevailing decree, ” Fachrul told reporters recently. — The Jakarta Post/ANN