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The state of silence: Indonesia’s religious discrimination

Indonesia’s religious minorities have no recourse when the state becomes a passive audience to violent attacks carried out by militant groups. This failure is leading justice into a state of silence.

Ahmadiyya children in Mataram, Indonesia Ahmadiyya children in Mataram, Indonesia. Demotix/Budi Afandi. All rights reserved.

Two years ago, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, during her mission to Indonesia, concluded that the problem of minority groups was inextricably and critically linked to the current human rights situation in Indonesia. According to Pillay, even though Indonesia has shown great promise, the country must improve its human rights protection framework. This is an important political step to be enacted by the state, in dealing with the extensive dangers faced by religious minority groups.

Within Indonesia’s democratic transition, we have witnessed a parallel and unceasing discrimination against religious minority groups. This has reached a critical point in contemporary Indonesia.  In 2006, the members of the Ahmadiyya Islam minority in Mataram, Indonesia, were sent by the local government into transitory habitation after violent attacks by militant groups pushed them away from their community. The local government claimed a strategic policy of preventing further violence against the Ahmadiyya community. Tragically, it amounted to their destructive displacement. Today, they are still living in precarious conditions, which lack even the bare conditions of quality daily life, let alone the benefits of democratic values and citizenship rights.

In March 2011, Indonesia was shocked by the murder of members of the Ahmadiyya in Cikeusik, West Java. Three members of the Ahmadiyya were killed in the violent clash. The tragedy caught the attention of both the national and international community. But this was not the only outrage of 2011. By the middle of the year, a minority Shia group in East Java found their community besieged by militants. With their property destroyed, they were forced to leave their village.

The Setara Institute, an Indonesia-based NGO, has called out this increasing discrimination against religious minority groups. On a global level, a Human Rights Watch special report has also called for attention to the unstoppable discrimination and uncertain situation experienced by such groups.

Because of an absolute isolation from the social and political arena, the experience of religious minority groups in Indonesia reflects their status as a vulnerable minority. A victimhood based on social and political exclusion convergent with militant groups dangerously dictating the political process has severely constricted inclusive policy-making.

Radical social groups, with inordinate political influence, along with popular support, have unilaterally restricted these minorities’ access to political protection. They have determined the political process by which the state addresses religious minority rights. Such political pressures manifest themselves in public policy provision that restricts minority expression. Although Indonesia holds to a constitutional framework, the members of religious minorities still struggle to find a fair space for the expression of their rights and social interests.

The escalating violence experienced by religious minorities in Indonesia strongly relates to the state’s political position, namely its ability to construct a distinctive position within the discourse on the future of minorities in Indonesia. The state needs to implement three fundamental concerns. The state should improve an inclusive policy in which religious minority groups enjoy political-legal protection. The state must realise law enforcement via the prosecution of the perpetrators of violence. This point is absolutely fundamental to the protection of religious minority groups. The state also needs to prioritize the political concerns of religious minorities, via the initiation of affirmative action.

Religious minorites are being denied these fundamental rights, as the state abdicates all responsibility for ensuring their protection. The unstoppable violence is an experience that deeply reflects this failure.

What is the future of minority groups in Indonesia? This is an urgent question, when the current problematic situation has witnessed the complete destruction of all dignity for these religious groups. And implicated in this is the future of Indonesian justice, when the state’s respect for rights is beholden to political weakness. No justice can be celebrated when the state becomes a passive audience to the violent attacks conducted by militant groups. This failure of protection is increasingly leading justice into a state of silence.

About the author

Max Regus is a researcher at the Graduate School of Humanities and Cultural Studies, Tilburg University, the Netherlands. His research project on religious minorities under attack in Indonesia is funded by the Institute of Missiology, Aachen, Germany.


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