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Catholics face persecution, intolerance, violence from Muslims in “moderate” region known for its religious harmony

27

Jihad, again. And again and again.

This region of Indonesia was known for its religious harmony. Now, Catholics face growing intolerance.

The city of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, was once the “poster child” of pluralism where Muslims and Catholics lived in religious harmony. But recently, that notion has changed as hardline Muslim “pressure groups” have become more active in the area.

By PRI, June 27, 2019:

The Front Jihad Islam (FJI) and Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) are both religious-based “pressure groups” that operate in the greater Special Region of Yogyakarta, promoting anti-vice and anti-apostasy messages. Both the FPI and FJI are considered religious vigilante groups, but FJI is very active in Yogyakarta while FPI maintains a nationwide network.

Ningrum Septianda, a Muslim woman, and her best friend, Sister Maria Patrice OSF, a Catholic nun, cross a street together in Yogyakarta. This photo went viral on social media in 2014, reinforcing Yogyakarta’s status as a city of religious harmony.

Despite repeated calls from Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, who is also the governor of Yogyakarta, to uphold religious freedom, incidents of religious intolerance are on the rise in Yogyakarta — from contested burial grounds to a Catholic church attack prosecuted as terrorism.

SETARA Institute for Democracy and Peace, an Indonesian human rights think tank, placed Yogyakarta Province among the least-tolerant cities on its 2017 Tolerant Cities Index.

The think tank has been documenting and reporting the state of religious freedom in Indonesia since 2007.

“…[The] rising intolerance in Yogyakarta isn’t an isolated phenomenon — there are clear indications that the province suffers from rising religious exclusivism, especially in areas where hardline Muslim organizations such as FPI and FJI are present.”

Tigor Bonar Naipospos, vice president, SETARA Institute for Democracy and Peace

Tigor Bonar Naipospos, vice president of SETARA Institute, says “[the] rising intolerance in Yogyakarta isn’t an isolated phenomenon — there are clear indications that the province suffers from rising religious exclusivism, especially in areas where hardline Muslim organizations such as FPI and FJI are present.”

Several incidences of intolerance in Yogyakarta are linked to FJI, including assaulting a man for holding Rosary beads in his house in 2014, dispersing a Christian school Bible camp in 2015, and pressuring the local government to shut down a transgender Quranic boarding school in 2016.

One of FJI Yogyakarta’s central figures, Abdul Rohman, supports Abu Bakar Basyir, the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, credited by hundreds of Islamic militants as a “jihad inspirator.” Rohman invited Basyir to give a sermon and his blessings at the group’s official launch in 2006.

Related: The world’s largest Islamic group wants Muslims to stop saying ‘infidel’

Mohammad Iqbal Ahnaf, a faculty member at the Center for Religious and Crosscultural Studies (CRCS) Universitas Gadjah Mada Yogyakarta, says Yogyakarta has a “vigilante groups issue combined with an authority issue,” leaving longtime Catholic and Muslim communities to wrestle with how to cope with the rising tide of intolerance.

An attack on faith

In February 2018, an unknown man armed with a katana burst into Saint Lidwina Church Bedog in Sleman, one of Yogyakarta’s four districts, during Sunday morning Mass, prompting congregation members to flee.

The man attacked and badly injured Father Karl Edmund Prier, along with a few other members of the congregation who tried to protect the priest. The assailant slashed bibles and decapitated statues of Mary and Jesus. After ignoring warning shots from police, they subdued him with two bullets. One police officer was also injured.

Yogya police later identified the man as Suliono, 23, who came to Yogyakarta to study the Quran from Banyuwangi, a small town in East Java.

Police are seen outside the Lidwina Catholic Church after a knife-wielding attacker wounded four churchgoers in Sleman, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

In response to the attack, Bernadetta Aryanti, an independent psychologist and a member of Saint Lidwina Church, volunteered to give psychological assistance and support.

“I received a lot of calls from those who suffered fear and anxieties after the attack, so I took the initiative and told my pastor that I want to volunteer in assisting them. Ever since, I received calls from my friends and colleagues who also wish to assist the chapelry,” Aryanti said.

She also worked collectively with dozens of other psychologists to provide psychological assistance some 200 Saint Lidwina members.

“The trauma healing process was hard. It was intended as an 8-day program, but later on, continued for over a year. … Those [who] were wounded during the ordeal have … healed, but psychological healing is a different story.”

Bernadetta Aryanti, independent psychologist, member of Saint Lidwina Church, Yogykarta, Indonesia

“The trauma healing process was hard. It was intended as an 8-day program, but later on, continued for over a year. … Those [who] were wounded during the ordeal have … healed, but psychological healing is a different story,” Aryanti said. She notes that the attack especially affected children, who reported nightmares, the inability to concentrate on studies and fears of returning to the church.

Aryanti attended a few court sessions in Jakarta and observed Suliono’s behavior. She says he confessed, through his lawyer, to decapitating statues because his religion forbids idolatry. Aryanti believes forgiveness is an important key to traumatic healing and that Suliono’s lack of remorse stifled the process for victims.

Related: Mobile technology for Muslims is changing faith in Indonesia

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Semarang also called on lawyers to assist through the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation — part of the Archdiocese of Semarang that deals with justice and advocacy for Indonesian Catholics.

“I advised the lead pastor to file a terrorism charge. I don’t normally challenge the authorities, but to call it an assault [was] an understatement.”

Anastasia Suki, lawyer, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Anastasia Suki, a Yogyakarta lawyer, was appointed to lead the defense team for the survivors and witnesses of the attack. “I advised the lead pastor to file a terrorism charge. I don’t normally challenge the authorities, but to call it an assault [was] an understatement,” told Suki to The World in a phone interview.

According to police, Suliono used to live in Poso, Central Sulawesi, a region known for sectarian clashes and as the basecamp for the East Indonesia Mujaheed group, loyal to ISIS. Suliono attempted to join ISIS in Syria but failed to obtain a passport, according to Inspector General Setyo Wasisto from the Indonesian Police to the media. Suliono’s court and police findings show that he had two noms de guerre: Nang Ibrahim al-Maduri and Abdullah Ibrahim al-Jogjawi, both names police say he planned to use in Syria, to fight along ISIS.

However, it remains unclear if Suliono belonged to a local radical or terrorist group. Indonesian police ultimately declared him a “lone wolf,” but Suki believes that online extremist materials and networks might have contributed to his radicalization.

“[In] court, he claimed that he loves watching Islamic lectures on Youtube as well as combat training videos,” Suki said.

In October 2018, Suliono received a 15-year jail sentence for violating Indonesian law No. 15/2003 on terrorism.

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