Indonesian Christians protest president's religious freedom award

(Photo: Reuters / Bazuki Muhammad)Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono waves as he arrives for a retreat during the 22nd ASEAN Summit at the Prime Minister's Office in Bandar Seri Begawan April 25, 2013. Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathered in the Brunei capital on Wednesday for their two-day summit.

Despite protests from Christians and other religious minorities in Indonesia, the country's president intends to accept an award at the end of May for advocating religious freedom from a U.S.-based interfaith group.

According to International Christian Concern (ICC), Indonesian Christians continue to express shock at the award to be presented to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation (ACF).

ICC reported last week on its website,, that Christians in Indonesia believe Yudhoyono does not deserve the award. They say this is because he is looking the other way while the rate of persecution of Christians is increasing in the mostly Muslim nation.

ICC estimates that over 50 churches were shut down at the behest of Islamic radicals in 2012.

In addition, threats against Christians on the island of Sulawesi continue, they say.

Those protesting the award include Catholic leaders and other leaders in faith and science.

One of them, philosopher and Jesuit priest Fr. Franz Magniz Suseno, wrote a letter to ACF criticizing its plans to present its World Statesman Award to Yudhoyono.

Suseno said in the letter that "during the eight and a half years of his presidency, Yudhoyo has never told Indonesians to respect minority rights."

Excerpts of the letter to ACF, founded by Rabbi Arthur Schneier in 1965, were published in the AsiaNews, the official press agency of the Roman Catholic Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).

AsiaNews reported last week that there have been a series of demonstrations and protests by people who believe an award which recognizes Yudhoyo for protecting minority rights and freedom of worship is not justified.

"He obviously does nothing to protect minority rights," he said. Suseno added that, as a result, "no one has ever done anything concrete" to protect them.

On May 6 there was a demonstration in Jakarta during which protesters tried to deliver a "petition" to the U.S. Embassy calling for ACF to withdraw the award.

Indonesian Christians experience daily persecution in day-to-day life, according to Suseno. Their problems include obtaining building permits to build churches and other small cases of discrimination.

Minority Muslim groups, who Suseno said are treated as "heretics" by the Sunni majority, are also expressing their dismay at the ACF award to Suseno.

Suseno noted that Shiites and Ahmadis have been expelled from their areas or killed.

A Shiite Muslim leader, Emilia Az J Rakhmat, said in AsiaNews that "we have been the subject of repeated violence".

"I just cannot understand how they can reward Yudhoyo," he said.

Yudhoyo's office has refuted claims that the president does not deserve the ACF award, according to the Jakarta Globe.

Teuku Faizasaya, a member of the president's international relations staff, said that cases of intolerance in Indonesia did not overshadow Yudhoyo's advocacy for human rights.

"The intolerance cases should not blind the eyes of the commentators from seeing the many progresses in building Indonesian values under President SBY," he said.

Indonesia's constitution officially grants its people freedom of religion. The Ministry of Religious Affairs extends official status to six religious groups: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism.

Christianity is practiced by approximately 14 percent of Indonesians according to Open Doors International, although the group says the figure may be higher because not all Christian churches affiliate with national organizations.

Open Doors, an advocacy group for persecuted Christians, says that the source of pressure on believers in Indonesia is not originating from the government, but from militant Islamists.

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