Jakarta. The disruption by a hardline Muslim group of a Christmas service in Bandung, West Java, on Tuesday (06/12) has given rise to questions about the state's duty to protect religious freedom, with activists and Muslim leaders warning of more acts of intolerance if inaction persists.
This week's incident is the latest of several in recent years in the world's largest Muslim-majority country, where most people follow a moderate form of Islam despite a small number of fundamentalist groups.
Human rights activists have long complained that the police appear to bow to pressure from the religious majority in such incidents, or that they refuse to intervene.
Hendardi, chairman of the Jakarta-based Setara Institute, lashed out at police as representatives of the state, which he said should bear most of the responsibility for Tuesday's incident.
"The way the police handle this kind of case has not changed. They have always forced religious minorities, which fall victim, to follow the will of intolerant groups," Hendardi said on Wednesday. "The police were not only allowing the intolerant group to proceed, but were also actively facilitating the disruption of the service on fabricated grounds."
The incident came as police are preparing to beef up security at houses of worship across the country ahead of Christmas.
"If there is no tough action against this kind of group, similar acts will become more widespread," Hendardi said.
Maarif Institute acting executive director Abdullah Darraz said the reasons cited by the group for its action were baseless.
"What about Ied prayers that are frequently held in public places? Don't determine what's right or wrong based on your own interests, just because you feel you're the majority," he said.
Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak, leader of the youth wing of the country's second-largest Muslim group Muhammadiyah, said the government should have been able to prevent the incident if it actively promoted interfaith dialog.
"Don't ever let religious freedom be undermined just because of the inability of the government to mediate between groups. The police should also have taken a clear and firm stance," he said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the group calling itself the Defenders of Ahlus Sunnah (PAS) justified its decision to disrupt Tuesday's event at the Sabuga building by saying that the service should have not been held in a public place but in a house of worship.
However, the organizer of the Christian revival service has dismissed the claim, saying that it has obtained the required permits to stage the event and a police letter confirming it.
According to Indonesian law, public facilities can be used for religious events as long as organizers acquire permits from the authorities, such as the Dec. 2 mass rally in Central Jakarta, which saw hundreds of thousands of Muslims taking part in a Friday prayer at the National Monument (Monas) complex and on surrounding streets.