There were arrests and convictions for blasphemy and insulting religion, and public canings in Aceh for sharia violations. The government did not resolve longstanding religious disputes. There were instances where local governments and police gave in to the demands of groups labeled locally as “intolerant groups” to close houses of worship for permit violations, or otherwise restrict the rights of minority religious groups. The government at both the national and local levels at times reportedly failed to prevent or appropriately address intimidation and discrimination against individuals based on their religious belief.
Observers stated that the central government made efforts to reaffirm constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, promote tolerance, and prevent religiously motivated violence. They also stated that the central government did little to intervene at the local level or solve past religious conflicts through its mandate to enforce court rulings, override unconstitutional local regulations, or otherwise uphold the constitutional and legal protections afforded to minority religious groups. Local governments selectively enforced blasphemy laws, permitting regulations, and other local regulations in ways that affected various religious groups. Officials at the local level reportedly sometimes gave in to the demands of groups described locally as “intolerant groups” and criminal gangs (including those with religious affiliation) to close houses of worship for permitting violations. Government officials and police sometimes failed to prevent intolerant groups from infringing on others’ religious freedoms and committing other acts of intimidation. Police also did not always actively investigate and prosecute crimes by members of intolerant sectarian groups, or punished certain individuals but declined to hold the groups themselves responsible.
On September 19, sharia authorities in two cities in Aceh carried out public canings against 34 individuals convicted of violating sharia. Most of the suspects were convicted of gambling, but four women were also caned for close contact with men who were not their husbands. On September 28, sharia police in Banda Aceh arrested two women for hugging in a public place on suspicion they were lesbians. The two were eventually transferred into a rehabilitation center and then released. The criminal code criminalizing homosexuality was signed into effect by the governor on October 23. In a December meeting, Acehnese officials stated that sharia in Aceh would not apply to non-Muslims, foreigners, or Muslim residents of other provinces, and the provincial government subsequently issued a public statement to this effect.
On June 15, a state court in Banda Aceh convicted six members of Gerakan Fajar Nusantara (GAFATAR) for blasphemy and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from three to four years. GAFATAR members stated the organization was a social movement based on the national ideology of Pancasila and focused on food security, ecology, and organic farming. Judges in this case held that GAFATAR was a religious movement spreading the teachings of the banned Abraham’s Militia Movement. Judges found that the defendants had committed blasphemy by holding that their spiritual leader, Ahmad Musadeq, is a prophet, and by spreading teachings contrary to Islam. GAFATAR members, and members of other small religious movements, also faced legal discrimination in other parts of the country. In June the regent of Lebak, Banten Province, called for GAFATAR and several other groups to be dissolved in the regency.
On August 28, Sukabumi resort police in Sukabumi, West Java, arrested a man on blasphemy charges after he allegedly claimed to be God, burned a Quran, and advocated sun worship and the denial of Islam. The man was arrested after being reported to police by local residents.
On October 1, acting on a complaint filed by local Hindu organizations, Bali police said an Indonesian Four Seasons hotel employee was a blasphemy suspect for selling a vacation package to a gay couple who held a marriage blessing ceremony at the hotel. Police also opened an investigation into the expatriate general manager of the hotel. A Hindu priest who officiated at the ceremony stated publicly that the ceremony included religious symbols, which was reported in the press.
The MRA maintained its authority to conduct “development” of religious groups and believers in Indonesia, including efforts to convert minority religious groups to Sunni Islam. In several West Java regencies, local governments continued efforts to force or encourage conversion of Ahmadis with a requirement that Ahmadis sign forms renouncing their beliefs in order to register their marriages or participate in the Hajj. In Tasikmalaya, this policy, established by municipal regulation, was openly advertised on signage produced by the local MRA.
The Setara Institute, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) based in the country that conducts advocacy and research on religious and political freedom, reported 70 cases of government abuses of religious freedom between January and August, similar to the previous year over the same period. Abuses cited included blocking construction of the Christian Protestant Church in Indonesia (GKPI) church in Jatinegara in July, and shutting down the Asy-Syuhada Mosque in Bitung City in April. Civil rights activists said sharia-based regulations violated the constitution and called on the government to exercise its constitutional jurisdiction to revoke or review these regulations. A 2014 law reaffirmed the Ministry of Home Affairs’ authority to revoke local regulations about religious matters that violate the constitution or national law, but there were no reports the home ministry had exercised this authority.
Shia and other minority religious groups stated that insulting speech, including speech that advocated violence, was widespread but never prosecuted under existing hate speech laws. On October 8, National Police Chief Badrodin Haiti released a circular letter instructing police to enforce the hate speech provisions in the criminal code. On October 25, the National Anti-Shia Movement (ANNAS) held an anti-Shia demonstration in Jakarta and the Shia group Organization of Ahlulbayt for Social Support and Education (OASE) filed a hate speech complaint with the police against ANNAS. On November 10, the Regent of Purwakarta, Dedi Mulyadi, issued a public letter guaranteeing all Purwakarta residents protection to hold religious observances according to their own beliefs. Observers said this was a preemptive effort intended to counter the anticipated ANNAS event of November 15 in Purwakarta, where ANNAS declared Shia to be a “deviant sect.”
On October 22, the Mayor of Bogor, Bima Arya, published a local regulation banning the Shia observance of Ashura in the city. Many civil society groups criticized the decree as unconstitutional, and a senior leader from the mayor’s political party wrote an open letter criticizing the mayor. OASE said it would file a challenge to the law on constitutional grounds. The NGO Satu Keadilan (One Justice) filed suit against the mayor, demanding he withdraw the decree. In nearby Bandung, West Java, police protected an Ashura observance being held at a local stadium from hardline protesters. The mayor of Bandung, Ridwan Kamil, however, later said allowing the Ashura celebration was “a mistake.”
In July the Evangelical Church of Indonesia (GIDI) in Tolikara, Papua, circulated a letter forbidding members of other faiths and Christian congregations from carrying out public ceremonies during GIDI's planned conference. On July 17, when local Muslims gathered at a prayer building (musholla) to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday, they were met with demonstrators apparently affiliated with the church, who reportedly threw stones at worshippers. Witnesses report police fired warning shots into the air and a riot broke out during which demonstrators burned down the musholla and several shops owned by Muslims, and police shot and killed one demonstrator. Members of the National Intelligence Agency and national legislature called for an investigation into the involvement of “foreign actors,” amplifying statements made by groups like Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia that the United States and Israel were involved. Several government officials, including the president’s chief of staff, immediately called for calm. On July 21, three government ministers, including Women’s Empowerment Minister Yohana Yembise, an ethnic Papuan, visited the site of the incident to calm tensions. President Joko Widodo (known as “Jokowi”) released a three-point plan to restore peace by launching a police investigation, rebuilding the damaged buildings, and hosting a meeting with Papuan religious and civil society leaders to address the situation going forward. Police provided increased protection to churches, which were threatened by retaliatory violence.
On March 25, the National Police Chief signed a decree allowing female police officers to wear the hijab while on duty, overturning a prior ban for officers in every province but Aceh. A state elementary school in South Sumatra introduced a ban on Muslim students wearing the hijab on the grounds that it was not in line with the school’s uniform. Lambung Mangkurat University (a state-funded institution) in South Kalimantan enforced a ban on Muslim students wearing a full face veil (niqab) on the grounds that it made it hard to identify students.
On October 6, protesters from the Concerned Islamic Youth (PPI) marched on the Singkil Aceh regent’s office demanding immediate closure of 19 churches that have long been the subject of protest from intolerant groups on the grounds that they did not have permits. Protesters demanded the churches be demolished within one week or they would do it themselves. On October 12, the regent signed an agreement to demolish 10 of the churches starting on October 19, and gave the other nine six months to process permit applications. On October 13, PPI protestors returned, many armed with bamboo spears and other weapons, and burned down one of the churches in Suka Makmur village. The protestors proceeded towards another village in order to burn a church there, but were stopped by armed security forces and villagers. One PPI protester was killed in the confrontation, and media reports indicated that as many as 4,400 local residents temporarily fled to North Sumatra in the wake of the violence. President Jokowi publicly condemned the violence and ordered his administration and police to take immediate action to prevent the violence from spreading. The major Islamic groups, including the Indonesia Ulamas Council (MUI), Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), and Muhammadiyah, joined with church groups and other civil society leaders in condemning the attacks and calling for calm. On October 17, the Singkil government used trucks to return most of the displaced residents. On October 19, local authorities proceeded to demolish two of the churches as per the October 12 agreement. Civil society groups from all faiths and national government figures condemned the move, and the minister of home affairs and the minister of religious affairs called for reform of the national house of worship permitting regulation, and more uniform enforcement of the regulation at the local level. As of the end of the year, local Singkil authorities had demolished 10 of the targeted churches.
On November 10, unknown parties burned down a temple under construction by followers of Sapta Darma, an indigenous religious group, in Plawangan Village, Rembang, Central Java. Sapta Dharma congregants said they had received threats from a local branch of Islamic People’s Forum (FUI), although police said that FUI had denied involvement and the arson was perpetrated by “locals from the area.” The regency government and police held a meeting with Sapta Dharma officials in the wake of the burning and agreed to facilitate construction of the temple at a different location.
On February 11, a group of Shia Muslims marched on the Muammar Qaddafy Mosque in Bogor, West Java, tore down several anti-Shia banners hung on the site, and got into an altercation with security guards. Police arrested 34 of the Shia protesters on assault charges. NGOs reported that while in custody, police forced the Shia detainees to repent and renounce their faith.
During Ramadan many police and government officials warned Islamic groups not to conduct “sweeps” of restaurants serving alcohol or food during fasting hours. West Java Provincial Police Chief Moechgiyarto said he was instructing police under his control to protect religious minorities such as Ahmadis and Shia, and not to participate in closing down houses of worship in the province. He said it is “not the authority of the police” to enforce such closures but rather the responsibility of local government administrations.
On July 12, members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) blocked the entrance of an Ahmadiyya headquarters building and mosque in Bukit Duri, Tebet, South Jakarta. Ahmadis proceeded to hold their Friday service outside the mosque, leading to a heated verbal confrontation and damage to a fence around the property. As the protest continued throughout the week, Ahmadis asked the police to negotiate a truce, and Jakarta Provincial Police Chief Tito Karnavian publicly agreed to conduct mediation while also protecting all citizens, including minorities. On June 19, more than 50 plainclothes police stood guard as Ahmadis held Friday prayers at the building. On July 8, however, a Civil Service Police Unit – an unarmed local security element under the command of the municipal government and charged with enforcing local ordinances and regulations – sealed the Bukit Duri mosque for permit violations, saying it was zoned as a private residence, not a house of worship. On July 15, Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama announced a special exemption for Ahmadi Muslims to hold prayer services in their homes and police promised to provide protection. As of the end of the year, however, the mosque remained officially sealed by the local government. Ahmadis said legal uncertainty among local officials and police, anonymous threats of violence, and insufficient police protection were the barriers to reopening the building.
On July 1, the Islamic Jihad Front (FJI) broke up a planned retreat organized by the Surakarta Advent Church for Christian students in Sleman, Yogyakarta. Approximately 50 members of FPI blocked the entrance to a campground and tore down banners promoting the event, stating the event did not have a permit and was promoting Christianity during Ramadan. Reports indicated that several police officers assisted FPI in breaking up the retreat. On July 9, the Yogyakarta FUI threatened to forcibly close the Cave of Mary Catholic shrine in Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta, if authorities refused to shut the shrine down. On July 14, approximately 30 FJI members, some armed with pipes, marched on the Saman Indonesian Baptist Church in Bantul, Yogyakarta, demanding its closure for permit violations. Bantul police prevented the demonstrators from approaching the church.
In other cases, local governments, sometimes with the backing of police, closed houses of worship for permit violations, often after protests from local intolerant groups. According to the MRA, there were 289,951 mosques, 69,703 Christian churches, 24,801 Hindu temples, 3,342 Buddhist Monasteries, and 651 Confucian temples in Indonesia, the vast majority of which operated openly and freely, according to observers. NGOs estimated, however, that as many as 85 percent of houses of worship, the majority of them mosques, were operating without a permit. On October 29, as many as 2000 Christian demonstrators protested the construction of a mosque in Manokwari, Papua, and on November 1, the Manokwari regent issued a letter officially forbidding further construction.
Many houses of worship operated without permits in office buildings, malls, private homes, and shop houses. Houses of worship that were established well before the ministerial decree came into effect were still obligated to meet the requirements or face closure in some localities. In August Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama intervened to prevent temporarily the planned demolition of an Indonesian Protestant Christian church in Jatinegara, East Jakarta, after the East Jakarta governor, who is under the authority of the Jakarta governor, announced his intention to demolish the church due to lack of a permit, following protest from “intolerant groups.” The church had been operating since the 1980s.
According to minority religious groups, meeting the requirements of the permitting regulation after the fact and under protest from intolerant groups was nearly impossible. Even when permits were attained, some houses of worship were forced to close or halt construction after facing legal challenges and public protest. Churches also reported that intolerant groups forced them to pay protection money to continue operation if they did not have a permit. In August Bekasi Mayor Rahmat Effendi agreed to halt temporarily construction of the Santa Clara Church in order to conduct a re-examination of the permit process after persistent protests from intolerant groups. In agreeing to the re-examination, the mayor noted, “I will not revoke the building permit. Non-Muslim residents have a right to a place of worship.” In September construction finally resumed on the Nur Musafir Mosque in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara. Construction was halted in 2011 after protest from Christian groups. On September 27, congregants of the Indonesian Christian Church in Yasmin, Bogor, whose church was sealed by local authorities in 2010, held their 100th Sunday service in protest in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta. The national ombudsman tried unsuccessfully to convince Bogor Mayor Bima Arya to uphold a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the congregation in its dispute with the local government over a building permit.
The Constitutional Court in June struck down a challenge to an article of the marriage law that requires marriages to be performed according to the rituals of a religion that is shared by both the bride and groom. While the law does not ban interfaith marriage, the petitioners said it effectively prevented it by not allowing the option of a civil ceremony, by deferring to religious laws on whether interfaith couples can be married, and by creating difficulties for civil registration of interfaith marriages after a ceremony has taken place.
Despite dialogues, official government visits, and reconciliation attempts, 162 Shia internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were forced from their homes after violent attacks in 2012 remained housed outside of Surabaya, East Java, after residents from their home city of Sampang refused to agree to their peaceful return, according to multiple sources. A group of displaced Ahmadis in Mataram, Lombok also were unable to return to their homes.
On September 19, the Mayor of Banda Aceh dismissed the local head of the Culture and Tourism Agency for allowing an Indian traditional dance performance as part of a cultural festival, stating that the performance was “erotic” and violated sharia.
Although the government generally allowed citizens to leave the religion column blank on their national identification cards, (KTPs), some reported difficulties accessing government services and other discrimination if they exercised this right. Several NGOs and religious advocacy groups continued to urge the government to delete the religion field from the cards.
Minority Islamic groups also continued to report resistance when they tried to apply for KTPs as Muslims. Although Ahmadis in Mataram, Tasikmalaya, and most other areas across the country were recently able to acquire KTPs listing their religion as Islam, the local government of Kuningan Regency, West Java, continued to refuse to distribute KTPs to local Ahmadis in Manislor village, stating they need a letter from the MRA recognizing the Ahmadiyya community as part of Islam or should apply with a blank religion column. Ahmadis in Kuningan remained unable to access many government services because they did not have KTPs.
Both the central government and local governments included elected and appointed officials from minority groups. For example, the governor of Jakarta was a Christian, the Mayor of Solo was a Catholic, and a leading Shia figure held a seat in the DPR, elected from a majority Sunni district in Bandung, West Java. President Jokowi’s 34-member cabinet included six members of minority faiths.
Foreign religious workers stated they found it relatively easy to obtain visas. Despite laws restricting proselytizing, foreign religious groups reported little government interference with preaching or religious conversions. Police provided special protection to some churches in major cities during Sunday services and Christian holidays.