Religious freedom in Indonesia

Despite a rise in religiously-motivated violence at home, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono accepted an award from an interfaith group for his work promoting religious freedom and human rights. Human rights groups say the award sends the wrong message: That all is well in Indonesia, a majority-Muslim democracy long viewed as a model of religious tolerance that has faltered of

In recent years Islamic hardliners belonging to Indonesia’s Sunni majority have attacked Christians, Shiites, and the Ahmadiyah, a Muslim sect persecuted globally for beliefs that diverge from the mainstream.

More than 430 churches have been attacked since 2004, and at least 30 Ahmadiyah mosques have been shuttered since 2008. The Jakarta-based Setara Institute, which monitors religious freedom in Indonesia, reported 264 cases of attacks on religious minorities in 2012, up from 216 in 2010.

In 2006 the government passed a ministerial decree that has prevented Christian groups from opening churches. An anti-Ahmadiyah decree passed in 2008 prohibits the Ahmadiyah from propagating their faith on pain of a five-year prison term. Local governments have interpreted the decree as a ban on the Ahmadiyah’s activities.

And while Indonesia’s constitution enshrines the right to freedom of religion, the government only legally recognizes six faiths – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism.

The president has laid down the “legal infrastructure” that allows groups to discriminate against minorities, and much of that discrimination and violence has gone unpunished, said Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher for Human Rights Watch, which released a report in February that blamed the Indonesian government for failing to protect the country’s religious minorities from growing religious intolerance and violence.

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