Bogor Mayor Bima Defends Ashura Ban as Lawsuit Looms


NOVEMBER 23, 2015

Jakarta. Bogor Mayor Bima Arya Sugiarto says he is prepared to face a lawsuit brought by activists against his decision last month to ban public celebrations of the Shiite holy day of Ashura.

Bima, who came to office in April 2014 touting a more moderate brand of Islam than his predecessor, Diani Budiarto, riled religious tolerance and human rights activists in October when he issued a decree barring public celebrations of one of Shiite Islam’s holiest days.

Sugeng Teguh Santoso, a lawyer with the One Justice Foundation (YKS), one of several civil society organizations filing the lawsuit, said on Monday that the mayor’s order was a clear violation of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of worship for all Indonesians.

The plaintiffs, who registered the lawsuit with the Bogor District Court on Monday, are demanding that revoke the decree.

The mayor, however, told the Jakarta Globe by phone that his office “is ready to face the legal process set in motion” by the plaintiffs.

He also called into question the timing of the lawsuit, given that Ashura, which fell on Oct. 24 this year, has already passed.

“The decree [to bar the celebration] was only effective for that particular day. [The decree] was based on a joint agreement with the Muspida,” Bima said, referring to a council comprising representatives of the municipal administration, local police and military, and community and religious groups.

Sugeng said his foundation initially sent two letters to the mayor’s office, the first seeking clarification for the prohibition and the second warning of a possible lawsuit if the order was not repealed.

Bima said his office had replied to the letters, explaining how and why the ban was issued.

“Sugeng should have received it by now,” he added.

With the lawsuit now filed, the court will mediate in talks between the two sides in the coming weeks. Only if they fail to reach an agreement will the matter go to trial.

It appears highly unlikely that Bima will back down in light of the lawsuit, given that for more than a year and a half now he has continued to ignore two Supreme Court rulings to unseal a church closed off during his predecessor’s time at the behest of Muslim hard-liners.

He also failed to take any action when, this weekend, Sunni hard-liners declared a national anti-Shiite movement at a gathering in Bogor. Bima was originally scheduled to be the keynote speaker at that event, but claimed he ignored an invitation sent by the organizers.

Bogor was earlier this month ranked by a leading think tank as the least tolerant city in Indonesia.