The constitution provides for religious freedom, but some laws and regulations restrict it. The government generally respected religious freedom for the six officially recognized religions, but not for groups outside those six religions, or groups within those six religions that espoused interpretations that local or national leaders deemed deviant or blasphemous. The government has sometimes failed to protect the rights of religious minority groups. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, Indonesia, U.S. Department of State <>]

There have been reports that police collaborated with hard-line groups against members of sects they deemed to be “deviant” when enforcing laws and regulations that limit religious freedom. In some instances, government security forces have failed to act when radical non-state actors attacked minority sects. Local governments have blocked construction of houses of worship by minority groups within their communities and the national government failed to enforce two Supreme Court decisions in favor of construction permits for two Christian churches. In 2011 a number of regional governments enforced decrees limiting or banning the free practice of Ahmadi Muslims. There were also reports that government officials and police witnessed the coerced conversion of dozens of Shia followers to Sunni Islam in East Java. <>

There have been reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. These abuses occasionally have included incidents of majority-on-minority communal violence. While this violence sometimes occurred along sectarian lines, the underlying causes were often more complex and included political manipulation, economic disparity, intra-family conflict, and land disputes. Some hard-line Muslim groups opposed to religious pluralism continued to engage in violent activity against other religious groups and activities deemed contradictory to their view of Islamic values. In 2011, year, religious communal violence claimed approximately 20 lives, left hundreds of homes destroyed, and displaced hundreds.

Religious Discrimination and Indonesia’s Identity Cards

All citizens are required to register their religion— Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Catholicism and Protestantism— which is then listed on their identity card. After the passage of the Civil Registration Law, which contained an article requiring citizens to provide their religion on legal documents, the Jakarta Post reported: “Lawmakers, particularly those from Islamic-oriented parties, seem to have forgotten past incidents of interreligious violence. Often, such violence saw groups of people from one religious group conduct illegal identification card checks, looking for people from a different religion. Once found, these unfortunate people were often beaten black and blue, or worse. [Source: Jakarta Post, December 12, 2006 |::|]

“Identification cards that specify the religion of the holder are of no use to the public. Such religious identification also runs counter to the Constitution, especially Article 28 (e), which guarantees freedom of worship and religion. Requiring citizens officially to identify with one of the six religions recognized by the state -- Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism -- amounts to a violation of human rights and of the Constitution, which recognizes non-denominational beliefs. This discriminatory article in the law is the result of a war of minds between secular factions in the House and minority groups on one side, and Islamic-oriented House actions on the other. |::|

“Unlike the tug-of-war over the national education bill, the secular groups were unable to muster much pressure during the deliberation of the civil registration bill. They called a series of press conferences and held some small street demonstrations, but were unable to apply the necessary pressure to influence the lawmakers, let alone the public. The secular Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and Christian Prosperous Peace Party (PDS) put up a final stand last Friday, as the House was about to pass the bill. Their opposition resulted in an offer from the Islamic-oriented factions to all couples of non-denominational faiths whose marriages were not registered by the state to register within six months of the passage of the law. |::|

Religious Abuse Involving the Indonesian Government

There have been reports of abuses of religious freedom, including reports of imprisonment and detention. The country has a long tradition of religious pluralism but certain laws, policies, and official actions restricted religious freedom. Due to inaction the government sometimes failed to prevent violence, abuse, and discrimination against individuals based on their religious belief. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, Indonesia, U.S. Department of State <>]

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported on continuing government abuses of religious freedom in 2012. The Setara Institute, an Indonesia-based NGO that conducts advocacy and research on religious and political freedom, reported 145 cases of government abuses of religious freedom during the year, an increase of 40 cases over 2011. Setara also reported a difference in methodology from the previous year including expanding its research area to include six additional provinces and reporting types of violations not accounted for in last year’s report. Both Setara and the Wahid Institute, another Indonesia-based NGO that advocates for and carries out research related to good governance and religious harmony, noted inaction by security forces was the most common category of abuse by state actors. Both institutions also agreed government sealing of houses of worship was the second most common category of abuse by state actors. Despite these abuses, the government did not prosecute victims of societal violence as it did in 2011. Rather, the government arrested and prosecuted ringleaders and some participants in the year’s most notable outbreaks of communal religious violence. <>

Atheism came under increased scrutiny during the year after the arrest and conviction of an atheist for allegedly inciting religious hatred with a posting on Facebook. On June 14, a court sentenced civil servant Alexander Aan to 30 months in prison for posting atheist statements and material that a local council of Muslim clerics deemed blasphemous on his Facebook page. Aan was convicted of violating the Information and Electronic Transaction Law, which forbids disseminating information designed to spread hatred toward or dissension among individuals and/or certain community groups on the basis of ethnicity, religion, or race. Following his conviction, Aan publicly renounced atheism and reportedly converted (back) to Islam. At year’s end he remained in prison. <>

There were also cases of officially encouraged conversion. During a group conversion ceremony in November, 18 Shiites in Sampang converted to Sunni Islam under the observation of police and officials from the Sampang office of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The officials who were present reportedly reminded the Shiites that they could be attacked by their neighbors if they did not convert. <>

Christian groups stated that foreign religious workers found it difficult to obtain or extend visas. Requirements for religious worker visas were more onerous than other visa categories. The application required approval from both local and national offices within the Ministry of Religion and disclosure of the number of followers of the religion in the community. The applicants had to attest they would remain in their position no more than two years before being replaced by a local national. Foreigners granted such visas worked relatively unimpeded. Faith-based workers with a primary focus on development work often successfully registered for social visas with the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Education. <>

Closure of Churches and Mosques in Indonesia

Forced closure of churches—including 50 in 2012 alone—and of Ahmadiyah mosques has become an issue in Indonesia.

Cases related to government-sanctioned closures of houses of worship and the freedom to construct houses of worship involved members of local majority religious groups calling on local government officials to reexamine the licenses of existing or proposed houses of worship. In October officials in Banda Aceh, under pressure from the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), ordered the closure of nine Christian churches and six Buddhist temples. According to local government officials, these houses of worship, several of which had existed for more than a decade, failed to meet the requirements set forth in the 2006 decree governing the establishment of houses of worship. Local officials also stated that the local chapter of the FPI brought the congregations to their attention. Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi defended the closures, noting that it was a permit matter and not related to religion. Local government leaders encouraged members of the congregations to join other local churches and temples with similar beliefs. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, Indonesia, U.S. Department of State <>]

Members of the Sunni majority experienced similar challenges in areas where they constituted a minority. After initially approving construction, the mayor of the predominantly Christian town of Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara ordered a halt to construction of Nur Musafir Mosque in 2011 after local hard-line Christian groups called for an investigation into the process by which the mosque obtained its permit. At year’s end, construction was still blocked and the site of the mosque had a temporary structure to accommodate Muslim worshippers for Friday prayers or the celebration of Muslim holidays. <>

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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