By BosNewsLife Asia Service
JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife)– Indonesia’s president urged authorities Wednesday, February 9, to crackdown on violent groups as a hardline Muslim mob clashed with police and attacked churches and other Christian properties in Central Java province.
“Law enforcers must take legal action against groups or registered organizations that continue to engage in violence, if necessary disbanding them,” Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in comments distributed by state media.
He spoke after a crowd estimated at more than 1,000 people attacked police with stones outside the courthouse in the Central Java town of Temanggung to protest what they considered a too-lenient sentence given to a Christian for blasphemy against Islam.
The Christian, 58-year-old Antonius Bawengan, was given the maximum five-year sentence Tuesday, February 8, on charges of distributing books and literature that allegedly spread hatred about Islam.
But angry protesters shouted that the man should have received a death penalty. The mob than proceeded to attack several churches and other properties, witnesses said.
The government denied media reports that two churches had been set ablaze, saying that they were “only pelted” with rocks by the protestors, in a statement distributed by the online edition of the Jakarta Globe daily.
Tanribali Lamo, an official at the Ministry of Home Affairs, said the churches did not suffer “any damage”, although the mob damaged property of the Protestant mission group Salvation Army. He also acknowledged that they burned a security post and a canteen at a Christian school.
In a statement posted on the U.S. Embassy website in Jakarta, Ambassador Scot Marciel said the United States “joins the vast majority of Indonesians” in deploring the violence. He encouraged the Indonesian government to continue to foster tolerance and protect the rights of all communities.
Local and international human rights activists have condemned the government for failing to stop attacks on religious minorities or take strong action against the perpetrators.
ANTI CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has seen an increase in anti-Christian violence, often carried out or supported by hardline groups, churches say.
One such group is the Islamic Defenders’ Front, which has been blamed for past attacks on bars, liberal activists and a Christian congregation. It was not immediately clear what its role was in Tuesday’s violence.
There have been calls by moderate Muslims for authorities to disband the group, which some allege have ties to security forces.
Non-Christians have also suffered, even deadly, attacks by Islamic hardliners in recent days, including the members of the Ahmadiyah Islamic sect, which holds that Mohammed is not the last prophet.
On Monday, February 6, a mob set on the group with machetes and planks as they sheltered in the house of a sect leader in western Java. A video has appeared on the Internet showing the attack, in which three people were killed and eight received injuries requiring hospital treatment.
Rights groups have urged the government to lift a decree issued in 2008 banning members of the sect from spreading their beliefs. They say the decree has just provided an excuse for attacks on the group.