Indonesia will set up a crisis center, headed by President Joko Widodo, to handle security situations involving its citizens overseas, a Chief Security Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said, following recent abductions of Indonesian sailors in Philippine waters.

As Officials React, Papua Mosque Burning Labeled 'Accident'

JULY 18, 2015

[Updated at 2:40 p.m. on Saturday, July 18, 2015, to add info on number of wounded, one person died]

Jakarta. The burning down of a small mosque in Karubaga, in Papua's Tolikara district on Friday, just as local Muslims prepared for Idul Fitri prayers, was an accident -- with perpetrators merely targeting food stalls nearby, President Joko Widodo's chief of staff has said.

Luhut Panjaitan said late on Friday that the mosque that caught fire was not the main target of the attack, by a local Christian group that apparently was offended by the use of loudspeakers near their church.

"They set fire to stalls owned by [non-Papuan] immigrants," Luhut said, "and there happened to be a small mosque nearby."

The chief of staff added that the Christian group had been holding a conference in a nearby church and had complained about the volume of the sound coming from the mosque's loudspeakers.

"All of a sudden people from the church started throwing rocks or stuff like that," Luhut said, adding that warning shots were fired by security forces and that several people had been hurt and taken to Jayapura for treatment of their injuries.

'Police to blame'

Local news portal quoted an official from the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) as saying that the trouble really started when police opened fire.

"There is a misunderstanding here, as if the GIDI [Evangelical Church of Indonesia] people are hostile toward Islam," Tempo quoted commissioner Natalius Pigai as saying. "But in fact they didn't plan to burn the mosque. The people were angry because they were shot at by police."

Media reports said a total of 12 attackers were injured on Friday, and one of them died later. The Jakarta Globe was not able to verify on Saturday the condition of the injured. 

In a seemingly unrelated incident last month, a GIDI church went up in flames in  Yambi, in Papua’s Puncak Jaya district, with fingers being pointed at the time to a local separatist group. 

Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, meanwhile, on Saturday warned people in Papua against being provoked to take part in any act of intolerance.

"The people don't need to become emotional, caught up in this situation. Be careful of provocateurs," Tjahjo said.

Papuan traditions

Neles Tebay, a Catholic priest and Papuan community leader, called the attack "unacceptable" and said it could not be justified by any religious person.

Neles, who also coordinates the Papuan Peace Network (JDP), said the attack has no place in Papuan culture.

"Our cultural traditions teach us that Papuans are not allowed to disturb places seen as sacred," he said. "When you do disturb a holy place, according to Papuan beliefs, there will be consequences in the lives of those who interfered in that place."

"As a Papuan, I ask for forgiveness for this event that violated the norms of our tradition [adat]," Neles said.

Calling for restraint, the priest also urged police to quickly get to the bottom of the case, finding not only those responsible for the attack, but also establishing what triggered it.

Freedom of religion

Maruarar Sirait, from the president's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), stressed that it was the state's task to guarantee the freedom of religion for every citizen.

"Indonesia is ruled by the law on the basis of Pancasila," he said, referring to the five-tier state ideology. "Religious freedom has to be protected, as mandated in the first principle of Pancasila."

Maruarar emphasized that all citizens should be able to safely carry out religious activities in their places of worship without being disturbed by others.

Another young politician, Grace Natalie from the newly founded Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), lamented the apparent lack of dialogue between different religious traditions and ethnic groups in Indonesia today, which she said was at the core of tragic events like that in Tolikara on Friday.

"The result is that vandalism and violence often become solutions," Grace said. "This is caused by religious understanding that is increasingly exclusive and intolerant -- and that happens in almost every religion."

Grace also said the Tolikara incident should not be seen as representative of the situation across the archipelago, however, as people in most places are able to peacefully practice their religion.

The freedom of religion in Indonesia has in recent years been under pressure from both hard-line groups and even government officials, with minority groups like Shiites, the Ahmadiyah sect and various Christian denominations usually bearing the brunt.

Top officials, like Vice President Jusuf Kalla, remain adamant however that Indonesia is among the most religiously harmonious countries in the world.

'Tyranny of the majority'

Nusron Wahid, speaking as the general chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama's youth wing GP Ansor, argued that the law should prevail.

"The freedom of religion and the freedom to worship are guaranteed by the constitution of this state. Nobody, in whoever's name, can disturb others, let alone set fire to a place of worship," he said.

GP Ansor has in recent years been playing an active role in protecting churches and minority groups like Ahmadis during times of tension. Nusron also heads the National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers (BNP2TKI).

"Don't let this become a religious conflict," he added. "The law has to be enforced and the state has to protect its citizen when they practice their religion."

He also said that a lesson can be learned from the Tolikari incident for all of Indonesia, namely that a tyranny of the majority is not acceptable anywhere.

"There has to be empathy. In mainly Islamic areas, the Muslim majority cannot just do whatever it wants, and neither can the non-Muslims in their areas," Nusron said.