Trial of 13 in Church Assault Begins

The Jakarta Globe

The trials of 13 men accused of attacking two Batak Christian Protestant Church leaders in September finally began at the Bekasi District Court on Wednesday.

The defendants — including Murhali Barda, the suspended leader of the Islamic Defenders Front’s (FPI) Bekasi chapter — allegedly assaulted Asia Sihombing and Rev. Luspida Simandjuntak, both leaders of the church, also known as HKBP.

The victims were on their way to a service on Sept. 12 in Pondok Timur Indah when a group of men accosted them. Asia was stabbed and Luspida was beaten with a stick.

On Wednesday, the defendants were split into five groups and were tried separately.

They face a variety of charges, including committing violence against others, unpleasant conduct and provocation. These constitute violations to Articles 170, 335 and 160 of the Criminal Code, respectively.

More than 100 police officers stood guard during the court proceedings, as dozens of members from the FPI demanded the immediate release of Murhali.

At a hearing presided by Judge Wasdi Permana on Wednesday, prosecutor Priorenta said Murhali had “provoked the attack against Asia and Luspida.”

“He is facing up to seven years in jail,” Priorenta said, adding that the Christian group had faced numerous protests in the area and were barred from entering their church.

The September attack occurred as the church leaders were heading to a vacant lot in Ciketing, where the congregation was forced to hold services after officials sealed off their church in Pondok Timur Indah.

The church was first closed in June after Islamic hard-liners objected to it being there. The city has tried to reach a compromise, offering the congregation two plots of land on which to build a church.

Following the attack and subsequent mass demonstrations by hard-line Islamic groups, Luspida was transferred to a different branch of the HKBP. He was replaced by Rev. Peterson Purba.

Peterson said the defendants may have been ordered to attack the church elders, among other cases of harassment and intimidation in recent years.

“We believe that most of the defendants did not really know what they were doing,” he said. “They must have been paid or rewarded by an individual or an interested party to attack us continually. There is someone out there who is very unhappy with our presence in the area.”

“Religion cannot be used as an excuse to justify attacks,” Peterson added.

Police in Bekasi have been criticized for failing to arrest more members of the FPI, which many believe was responsible not only for the Sept. 12 assault, but also for previous threats against the HKBP.

Sr. Comr. Boy Rafli Amar, spokesman for the National Police, had earlier said authorities believed September’s attack was premeditated and was instigated by Murhali.

However, Shalih Manggara Sitompul, Murhali’s lawyer, insisted on his client’s innocence.

“We will prove that the 13 defendants have done nothing wrong,” Shalih said, adding that the indictment was “too vague.”

“We also hope that judge Wasdi will allow Murhali to be placed under the city’s custody instead of being detained by prosecutors,” Shalih added.

Munarman, the FPI’s spokesman and legal counsel, said the bigger issue in the case was not religious intolerance but the HKBP’s illegal status.

“This is not about taking other people’s right to have freedom of beliefs,” he said. “This is about the HKBP running an illegal church at the field in Ciketing and Pondok Timur Indah as well as in [other parts of] Bekasi.”

Munarman said the congregation’s activities caused traffic jams, noise pollution and the accumulation of garbage, especially after Sunday services.

The court hearings were adjourned until Monday.

Indonesian Govt to Check Improvements to Transport Safety

The Jakarta Globe

The transportation safety body announced on Tuesday that it would establish a team to monitor how recommendations on improving road, rail, sea and air safety were being implemented.

Tatang Kurniadi, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT), said his office had investigated 36 transportation accidents throughout this year on which it issued 103 recommendations to the relevant authorities.

He said the new team charged with checking the follow-up to those recommendations would likely be formed early next year.

“We want to reduce the number of transportation accidents, whether in the aviation, maritime, railway or road sectors,” Tatang said.

There have been 47,852 reported transportation accidents so far this year, according to the KNKT, down from 63,219 in 2009. The death toll from these accidents year-to-date also fell, to 14,584 from 20,323 last year.

The KNKT, which operates under the authority of the Transportation Ministry, has investigated 168 accidents to date since 2007, accounting for a combined death toll of 1,095.

Tatang said those investigations had yielded 597 recommendations that had been forwarded to the Transportation Ministry, the civil aviation directorate, regional administrations, the National Police and transportation operators.

“Unfortunately, we’ve found that only 40 percent of those recommendations have been followed up on and implemented by the authorities,” he said. “Those adopting them are usually only the transportation operators, regional transportation agencies or regional administrations.”

He said that all recommendation issued by the KNKT were legally binding under the 1992 Aviation Law and the 2007 Railway Law. “Therefore, we see the need for a team to monitor whether the recommendations are being acted on,” Tatang said.

Bambang Ervan, a spokesman for the Transportation Ministry, blamed the slow adoption of the KNKT’s recommendations on bureaucracy and lack of funding to carry out the proposed changes.

“For instance, take the recommendation that railway infrastructure and facilities must be improved,” he said. “To replace the tracks and train cars, we first need to apply for funding from the central government, and that takes a long time to approve. That’s why we’re often forced to delay implementing the recommendations from the KNKT.”

Tatang said it was important for the authorities to act quickly, given that the main cause of railway, maritime and aviation accidents was technical error. By contrast, the leading cause of road accidents is human error.

“It has to be stressed that our investigations aren’t targeted at identifying the culprit behind the accident and bringing them to justice,” Tatang said. “What we’re ultimately looking for is what happened, how did it happen and why was it allowed to happen.”

He said this meant the team to be set up next year would not have the power to fine or otherwise punish officials who failed to implement the recommendations, “although there’s a law that provides for that,” he added.

Danang Parikesit, chairman of the nongovernmental Indonesian Transportation Society (MTI), lauded the idea of forming a monitoring team, saying it would help ensure lasting improvements to safety policies.

Rights Groups Demand Ahmadiyah Orphanage Be Unlocked

The Jakarta Globe

Twelve rights groups on Monday called on the government to reopen an Ahmadiyah orphanage that had been kept shut for weeks by law enforcers.

Ilma Sovri Yanti, a national advocacy officer for SOS Children’s Villages Indonesia, urged the authorities to reopen the Khasanah Kautsar Orphanage, which is operated by the minority Ahmadiyah community in Kawalu subdistrict in Tasikmalaya, West Java.

Its closure, Ilma said, was a violation of the children’s rights. The orphanage was locked up, with the children and staff still inside, by the subdistrict police chief and prosecutor on Dec. 18. Officials argued that the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) would otherwise have come to close it down.

“We sent a statement to the Tasikmalaya prosecutor’s office and also to the regional secretary on Sunday night regarding the violation of the children’s rights by locking the orphanage’s gate from the outside,” Ilma said.

SOS Children’s Villages is one of 12 nongovernmental organizations lobbying the district government to reopen the orphanage. Among the other groups are the Maarif Institute, Wahid Institute, Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) and Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI).

Ilma said the NGOs would request a public meeting with the government to find an alternative solution for the orphans if the Tasikmalaya authorities failed to respond by next week.

Members of the Ahmadiyah community have been the target of repeated, often violent attacks in the past few years from hard-line Muslim groups mostly in West Java and West Nusa Tenggara.

Rights activists have blamed the country’s highest authority on Islamic affairs, the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), for declaring Ahmadiyah a deviant Islamic sect, therefore encouraging violence against its followers. The government also recently banned the sect from worshiping in public and from proselytizing.

Speaking on behalf of the NGOs, the national director of SOS Children’s Villages, Gregor Hadi Nitihardjo, called on the government to remove the locks on the orphanage, guarantee the children’s security and assure a conducive environment for the children be integrated into society.

He said shutting down the orphanage had caused fear, mental trauma and physical danger for the children, who now climb a three-meter wall every day to go to school or get supplies.

Sopwatur Rohman, an 18-year-old boy who has spent the past 20 days at the orphanage, said he was afraid and wondered why the government had locked them inside.

“We live in fear because officials often come to check on the lock,” he said. “People also drive by sometimes to yell at us.”

Seto Mulyadi, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak), said children should not be dragged into adult conflicts.

“The locking up of the children inside the orphanage has taken away the right of the children to have a comfortable place to live, to get an education and also to have the freedom of religion or belief,” he said.

Seto said he would meet with the head of the FPI, Rizieq Shihab, and the leader of the FPI’s Tasikmalaya chapter to find a solution that will spare the chil dren.

Emboldened by 2005 Law, Number of Women Reporting Abuse Skyrockets

The Jakarta Globe

Jakarta. The introduction of the 2005 Domestic Violence Law has spurred an increase in the number of women coming forward to report cases of abuse, the country’s leading women’s rights group said on Wednesday.

Sri Nur Herawati, an official with the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan), said it had received 143,586 reports of domestic violence in 2009.

She said this was a huge increase from the total 9,662 reports filed with the commission between 2001 and 2004, before the law took effect.

She said the main reason for the increase was the fact that more women felt emboldened by the law to report the abuse they suffered.

“There’s actually more that we can do, such as getting the women to understand their rights,” Sri said.

“And they shouldn’t wait until they can’t handle the violence any more before reporting to us.”

The commission says 44.4 percent of women who fall victim to domestic violence are illiterate, and thus not likely to be aware of their rights and the laws protecting them.

Sri said that despite the increase in the number of women coming forward, many more women still preferred to resolve cases of abuse through cultural or religious channels.

“Some women who fall victim to domestic violence only agree to get the problem resolved not because they want to stand up for their rights, but because they’re accustomed to community-based cultural means of conflict resolution,” she said.

A Komnas Perempuan study earlier this year on domestic violence resolution in South Sumatra and Central Sulawesi provinces showed women there tended to turn to cultural or religious leaders to help resolve their problems.

Harkristuti Harkisnowo, the Justice and Human Rights Ministry’s director general of human rights, said women who were victims of domestic violence preferred to take this non-formal route rather than file a formal report with the police.

“Given this tendency, I believe cultural law should be adopted into formal legislation, just as in the Juvenile Offenders Law,” she said.

“Therefore, the victim doesn’t have to undergo a formal way, which puts even more pressure on them, but just needs to lay out their case before a cultural hearing. The results of such a meeting must then be used in a court case against the offender.”

WWF, NU Team Up for Green Campaign

The Jakarta Globe

The environmental group WWF has joined forces with Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s biggest Islamic organization, in an effort to preserve the environment by raising public awareness of the issue.

Nyoman Iswarayoga, director of climate and energy issues at WWF-Indonesia, said on Monday that his group was eager to work with large organizations in a bid to spread the message about saving the environment.

“It’s easier to approach the public through a mass organization that is connected to a group of followers,” he said.

“This is actually not the first time we’ve engaged with mass organizations, including religious ones, for this purpose. For instance, we held a public discussion on preserving the environment from an Islamic perspective in Aceh before the 2004 tsunami.”

He was speaking after the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the WWF and NU.

Efransjah, head of WWF-Indonesia, said the agreement called for a combination of environmental conservation and religious values to deal with the impact of climate change.

“We’re confident that the wide network of organizations under NU will help us to raise public awareness about preserving the environment and the country’s biodiversity,” he said.

NU has a history of campaigning on environment-related issues. In 2004, it set up a community-based disaster risk management body to address issues such as flooding and landslides resulting from deforestation.

In March this year, it renamed the body the Disaster and Climate Change Board (LPBI-NU) to better reflect its wider focus on addressing the impact of climate change.

Avianto Muhtadi, head of the LPBI-NU, said that since its 2004 inception the board had worked with various local and international environmental organizations to set up community programs, backed by local clerics, to help preserve the environment.

“NU has 70 million followers and a network of 15,000 pesantren [Islamic boarding schools] in Indonesia,” he said.

“To get the message across to them, we’ll draft material for a dakwah [a campaign through preaching] and train local clerics to present it.”

Avianto said the material would be drafted based on “Islamic values and national or international environmental laws, such as the Hyogo Framework and Indonesia’s 2007 Law on Disaster Management.”

The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-15 aims to identify ways to build countries’ and communities’ resilience to disasters.

“So far we’ve reached our goals in several districts in Indonesia,” Avianto said. “For instance, we’ve planted 12,000 trees in Jember district in East Java.”

Iswarayoga said while Monday’s signing marked the first formal agreement between the WWF and NU, the two had worked together on environmental issues for the past four years.

As part of the agreement, he said, both sides would set up climate change adaptation programs for different district, tailored to the kinds of problems they were facing.

“We’ll have to identify what kind of problems they have because each district will have a different issue,” Iswarayoga said.

For Religious Violence, the Finger Points To State Bodies

The Jakarta Globe

Indonesia, long considered a bastion of religious tolerance, is increasingly reverting to fundamentalism and intolerance, a non-governmental organization observed in its annual report on Tuesday.

Yenny Zanuba Wahid, the executive director of The Wahid Institute, said the organization recorded 196 cases of violence based on religious discrimination and intolerance in Indonesia during 2010. The figure was up from the 134 cases recorded in 2009.

“Violent acts that go against people’s right to freedom of religion are not only committed by the public or members of large civil society organizations, but also by the state through its regulations, and by local governments and police officers,” said Yenny.

The Wahid Institute’s annual report found that 72 percent of actors in cases of religious violence were from local governments, legislative councils, the Public Order Agency (Satpol PP) and the police.

“The environment of increasing religious intolerance and discrimination in Indonesia is caused by unclear regulations,” Yenny said.

“Decentralization has allowed the state to become more repressive. There has been a decentralization of violence and intolerance,” she added.

Nurkholis, the deputy chairman of the National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said the institution had recorded a record number of human right violations caused by police officers.

“The problem with the police officers is that sometimes they forget about the human aspect of their duty.” said Nurkholis.

“In many cases of religion-based violence, police bring in the victims for questioning first, rather than immediately going after the perpetrators,” Yenny said.

National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Boy Rafli Amar said there are certain legal procedures that must be observed when dealing with violent incidents.

He said victims of violence were examined first because they were usually in a weaker position and needed to be protected. “That’s due legal process,” he said .

The Wahid Institute found that restrictions on freedom of religion and the complex regulations related to building houses of worship were responsible for the most cases of religious violence, at 44 cases.

The institute found of 133 cases of intolerance without violence, 83 percent involved civilian groups, which were responsible for 94 of the cases.

These organizations use religious jargon to justify their actions, Yenny said.

The institute’s research showed that the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and even the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) were the main culprits behind religious intolerance and discrimination across the country, she added.

Yenny said that victims of religious intolerance included individuals, church congregations, community groups and minority sects.

The Wahid Institute also monitored both government and society efforts to protect freedom of religion. The report found West Java was the country’s most intolerant region, followed by East Java

Resigned to Their Fate: Jakartans Plan for Higher Costs

The Jakarta Globe

Anita Rachman & Elisabeth Oktofani

Jakarta. Jakartans’ reactions to news of the impending restrictions on subsidized fuel ranged from anger over the price hikes to indifference, with nobody interviewed showing enthusiasm for the new rule.

“It is unfair that the government will limit the usage of subsidized fuel,” said Rina, a private sector employee.

“The rule should be aimed only at people who drive fancy cars. How many fancy cars are there in this town? They are the ones who should actually pay more, since they have more money to buy fuel.”

Jodi Pamungkas, who works at a private company, said he would need to rearrange his monthly expenses if the government went ahead and restricted the use of subsidized fuel.

“I would have to recalculate my monthly expenses, especially for transportation, as I pay for it all myself,” he said. “The government has to think about who this new rule is affecting. Not everybody who drives a car has a lot of money.”

Reza Irawan, who works at a private bank in Jakarta, said he had no problem with the price increase since his company usually paid for his gasoline.

“So far, my company has not warned us about any rule changes due to increased fuel prices. As far as I know, they will keep paying for my transportation. So I don’t think I have any problems,” he said.

Rudi, an employee at a private company in Central Jakarta, shared similar sentiments.

“I drive a car made in 2008. But my company pays for my transportation, so I do not think that I will have a problem with the new rule,” he said. “However, for my personal travel, I will have to get smarter about spending money on fuel.”

Charles Banua, who drives a 1998 Toyota van, was resigned to his fate. “My van is already a gas guzzler and if I have to pay more to use it, I may just sell it and get myself a motorcycle,” the insurance salesman said.

M. Romahurmuziy, a United Development Party (PPP) lawmaker, said the decision to apply the new rule on subsidized fuel for all private cars, regardless of model year, would “disrupt economic justice.”

He said many cars on the road were made before 1990 and were only worth as much as a new motorcycle.

“A combination of the production year and [engine] size should have been taken into account,” he said, adding that cars built after 2005, as well as those built before but with large engines, should not be eligible for the cheaper gas.

The lawmaker also said taxis should not be eligible since “the people who use them are from the upper middle class.”

Romahurmiziy also warned the government to make sure that enough fuel was available throughout the areas surrounding Greater Jakarta, since residents living on the outskirts of the city would most certainly go to neighboring areas to buy cheaper gasoline. 

Rina: ‘It is unfair! The rule should address those who drive fancy cars. How many fancy cars are there in this town?’
Rudi: ‘My company pays for my transportation, so I do not think that I will have a problem with the new rule.’

Indonesia Pledges $34 Million to Rebuild Wasior by Early 2012

The Jakarta Globe

Nurfika Osman & Elisabeth Oktofani

Armida Alisjahbana, minister of national development planning, on Thursday predicted that all reconstruction and rehabilitation in Wasior, West Papua, would be completed by early 2012, pledging nearly Rp 304 billion ($34 million) to rebuild the region devastated by flash floods.

The floods overwhelmed the area in October, killing 161 people with 7,000 left homeless and 146 missing and presumed dead. The Teluk Wondama district administration in Wasior says those displaced will eventually be relocated to the Rasiei and Naikere districts in West Papua.

“We have recently begun discussing the implementation of our rehabilitation and reconstruction program, since completing an inventory of the damages and losses incurred as a result of flash floods in Wasior,” Armida said, suggesting that program activities would include the construction of temporary housing, basic infrastructure and restoring economic and social activity.

She added that the government had already finished building temporary housing and public kitchens, as well as supplying a source for clean water.

“We have finished building 99 temporary homes that are ready to be occupied,” Armida said, adding that further reconstruction activities would ideally begin by the middle of next year, including plans to permanently relocate over 7,000 people from Wasior to 1,500 newly built homes in Rasiei and Naikere by 2012.

“In the first six months of next year, we plan to draw out the full plans. The reconstruction work can only begin after everything is ready, which should be mid 2011,” Armida said. “We expect that all relocation activities will be completed by early 2012.”

The central bank has pledged to help out by providing credit facilities to disaster victims to help them rebuild.

Six foreign governments have agreed to contribute to a $30 million fund to help establish community empowerment programs in support of disaster-recovery efforts across Wasior, as well as the disaster-struck zones of Mentawai in West Sumatra and cities in close proximity to Mount Merapi, the World Bank said on Thursday.

Citra Lestari, a World Bank consultant speaking to the Jakarta Globe, named the contributing governments as Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the European Union.

She said the fund would be managed by the National Community Empowerment Program (PNPM) .

The fund is intended to support community disaster recovery efforts and assist affected households in restoring their livelihoods, Citra said.

It would also pay for the timely provision of investment block grants, to help generate economic activity and employment, providing badly needed income for households, as well as fund “cash for work” initiatives under existing PNPM programs.