As Indonesia’s global reputation as a model for
Muslim democracy deteriorates due to rising intolerance, President Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono made his strongest remark in his state-of-the-nation address
on Friday to defend the
The President, however, stopped
short of mentioning the plight of Shia and Ahmadiyah followers in facing
religious persecution. “I would like to remind the people that the state fully
guarantees the existence of individual or minority groups,” Yudhoyono said in
his speech, which was delivered to commemorate the 68th anniversary of
independence at the House of Representatives.
“We cannot justify
imposition of belief by the any religious group on a minority, especially by
using threats, intimidation and violence,” he said, adding that every citizen
should uphold the Constitution that guarantees freedom of religion.
Indonesia, he said, is a pluralistic country and the people should take
it as a blessing in order to be able to manage it. “We have to prevent communal
clashes and violence, which may disrupt peace in our society as well as our
national unity,” he said.
He acknowledged that cases of
intolerance still occurred and should be addressed, but that did not mean that
Indonesia was no longer a tolerant country. He went on to cite a number of
Indonesia’s achievements in boosting its standing as a champion of pluralism by
initiating dialog among different faiths and civilizations.
Indonesia has become the initiator of such dialogues in Asia and the Pacific, as
well as within the framework of the Asia Europe Meeting or ASEM,” he said.
“Indonesia also supported the formation of the Alliance of Civilizations at the
The President’s remark came amid mounting criticism
against his administration for failing to stem the rising cases of intolerance.
Incidents of religious intolerance have increased steadily in the last four
years, as reported by the Wahid Institute, which promotes pluralism and peaceful
Islam. The report showed the number of religious intolerance cases in 2012 stood
at 274, up from 267 in 2011. In 2010, the institute recorded 184 cases and 121
cases in 2009.
Only recently, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali
drew public outrage following reports that he allegedly condoned the forced
conversion of Shia followers, who fled their villages in fear of persecution
from their Sunni neighbors. In his defense, the minister said the government was
only supporting a “reconciliation program” aimed at “enlightening” the Shia
followers to allow peaceful coexistence.
Several Shia members decided to
renounce their faith and return home in Sampang, East Java, while others, who
have been living in a camp in Sidoarjo in the past year, refused to do so and
remain in limbo until now.
Human rights activists criticized the
President’s speech and accused him of being out of touch with the reality of
Indonesia. “The speech was made without considering the facts and reality that
occurred in Indonesia,” Choirul Anam of Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) said,
calling the speech “apologetic”.
“Yudhoyono forgot that he failed to
ensure all state officials to respect religious freedom which was shown by
numerous discriminative policies across the country.”
touched the issues of separatism in Papua and Aceh, saying the two remained an
integral part of Indonesia. He also called on the Indonesian people to ensure
that the elections run peacefully through a free and fair