Lawmaker: Police must do more to protect religious minority groups

Indonesian police ask minority groups to “give up” to avoid conflict, rather than protecting their rights, legislator charges
The National Police force has not sufficiently improved its ability to protect religious minority groups, experts agreed at a recent Jakarta panel discussion.
Although Muslim-majority Indonesia is a secular country where freedom of religion is protected under the constitution, some religious minorities in recent years have come under attack by hard-line Muslim groups.
Reform measures tend to focus on expanding the central police administration rather than strengthening the capacity of local forces to handle violence against minority groups like Ahmadiyah and GKI Yasmin, said Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of House of Representatives (DPR) and its legislative committee overseeing legal affairs.
In handling such violence, police often emphasise preserving social order over protecting the minority groups, Eva told a meeting at the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club on March 28th.
“Instead of providing protection, police often asked the minority group to give up, to prevent a physical conflict,” she said. “They argue that they cannot guarantee [a] radical group will not come back to attack again, as they cannot mobilise and provide protection all the time.
“However, as a law enforcement agent, police must focus on providing a protection of human rights [rather] than accommodating a social order.” The Islamic minority sect Ahmadiyah has been a target of deadly attacks in Indonesia, and members of a small Christian parish in Bogor, GKI Yasmin, have been prevented from worshipping in their church.
Congregants celebrated Easter in secret this year, and did not notify police of the location, since police presence did not stop dozens of hard-liners from the Reform Movement (Garis) and the Muslim Communications Forum (Forkami) from disrupting their Christmas services, GKI Yasmin spokesman Bona Sigalingging recently told The Jakarta Post.
“The police were there, but they did not do much to help us. Ever since, we have found no point in telling the police about our activities,” Bona said.
Eva said she was frustrated that her colleagues in the House of Representatives often view violence against minority groups as a local matter rather than a law enforcement issue.
“However, it is a must for the police to change their policy and strategy to improve the community police,” she said.
Responding to the criticisms, National Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Boy Rafli Amar said police are committed to enforcing Indonesian laws and to pursue anyone who violates them.
Indonesians have the right to form mass organisations, he pointed out, also noting that police investigated Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leaders in 2008.
Known for raiding bars, clubs and gaming halls during Ramadan, the FPI reached a new level of visibility in January when its members threw rocks at the Home Affairs Ministry to protest its decision to annul local laws banning alcohol sales.
“Even nowadays, we are still communicating with FPI leaders to guide them to not violate the law anymore,” Boy said, adding that “the FPI are no longer conducting sweeps in night clubs.”
He said the police had to work to educate segments of the population who remain unaware of some aspects of the law and human rights within the still-developing country.
Johnson Panjaitan of Indonesian Police Watch urged national police to train local forces in handling religious conflict, especially in regions where the potential for such conflict is high.
Police intelligence must be strengthened to prevent religious conflict in the first place, he said.
Beyond that, the police are hobbled by a lack of action from the government, in his view.
“Sadly enough the state is actually not brave enough to disband a hardline group such as FPI,” he said.
“Therefore it needs to be understood that this is not only a police problem but the government’s problem as well. And we need to support the Indonesia National Police,” he added.
Research conducted by Jakarta’s Paramadina University and Gadjah Mada University shows that police were present only 25% of the time in 718 violent incidents between 1990 to 2008.
In 1999, shortly after the end of the Suharto regime, new laws formally separated the Indonesian National Police from the military, which had controlled the force for decades.
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