More than 200 cases of religious freedom violations were recorded in Indonesia in 2017. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

Non-State Actors Are Main Violators of Religious Freedom in Indonesia


AUGUST 08, 2018

Jakarta. More than 200 cases of religious freedom violations were recorded in 2017, and most of them were carried out by non-state actors, human rights group Wahid Foundation revealed on Wednesday (08/08).

In its annual report, Wahid Foundation said the 213 cases recorded last year show a 4 percent increase from 2016. However, the increase is smaller than in previous years. For comparison, there were 190 cases recorded in 2015, a 20 percent increase from 2014.


Last year, most violations, 64 percent, were committed by non-state actors such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). In previous years, the abuse came mostly from government-affiliated institutions.

FPI has been the most notorious abuser, according to the report. And too little has been done by law enforcers to curb it.

"As a result, this organization has not been deterred ... Quite contrary, this shows that FPI's actions are not fully noticed by the law," the report said.

The main victims have been Ahmadis, Shias and members of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) — an Islamist organization which was recently banned by the government.

The highest number of violations was recorded in Jakarta — 50 incidents — followed by West Java (44), East Java (27) and Central Java (15). Religious freedom violations were recorded in 27 provinces.

According to Wahid Foundation, this is the first time Jakarta tops the list, which according to Alamsyah M. Dja'far, a senior researcher at the foundation, was mostly due to the controversial gubernatorial election last year, which was marred by hate speech and politicization of religious sentiments.

Politicization of Religion

The report highlights 28 cases of politicization of religion — in Jakarta, West Java and Banten. Most of them were related to the use of hate speech against former Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama.

Generally, politicization of religion assumes two main forms — the use of religious symbols in public spaces and for political advantage.

"First, [it is] the excessive and inappropriate use of religious symbols and idioms in political spaces. Second, some groups are using feelings of hatred, dislike and threats against different groups to gain political support," said Yenny Wahid, the foundation's executive director.

She warned that precautions must be taken ahead of next year's elections.

"Intolerance and politicization of religion leave scars and bad memories, this is something that must be healed, or it can blow up," Yenny said, adding that the government should consider early warning systems to prevent religiously charged negative incidents from escalating.

She also expressed hope that the 2019 elections will be a healthy electoral process.

"[I hope] we will choose our leaders not because we feel threatened, or on the basis of their religion, but for their programs."

Positive Initiatives

Wahid Foundation observed that there have been more and more efforts by the state and civil society to promote diversity, religious freedom and tolerance.

Efforts by the state are led by the police, while non-state initiatives have been driven by interfaith communities, Ansor (the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama), and civil society organizations.

The foundation recorded 398 positive initiatives in 2017, a 64 percent increase from 2016.

One of the most prominent examples last year was the Constitutional Court's ruling allowing followers of indigenous faiths to have their beliefs recognized in their national identity cards.