Religious minorities find a voice in Indonesia, Nepal

Religious Liberty
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 11/17/14, 02:19 pm

Even as persecution of Christians grows in much of the world, government officials in two countries recently spoke out in favor of religious freedom for all, including Christians.

Indonesia’s new president and two of his government officials proposed reforms and new protections for religious minorities in the majority Muslim nation, AsiaNews said. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his administration said they want to protect the rights of all minority groups. Many Christians supported Widodo’s candidacy, according to The Jakarta Post. Widodo’s agenda of human rights, freedom, and opposition to religious intolerance won support of Indonesian Catholics, according to Agenzia Fides.

Muslim extremists often persecute Indonesian Christians, especially converts from Islam. Todd Nettleton, media director for Voice of the Martyrs, said that 10 years ago, the Indonesian government was trying to protect people from persecution. But, in recent years, government persecution such as the refusal of permits to build churches increased.

If enacted, the reforms proposed by Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim and Interior Minister Tjahjo Kumolo would protect minorities from ill treatment, give them equal religious rights, make it easier for non-Muslims to get building permits, and change the religious affiliation column on national identity cards, AsiaNews said. The Jakarta Post said the proposal would allow people to leave that column blank.

Nettleton said if Indonesia removes religious affiliation from identity cards it would be a “very significant and very, very positive” change for Indonesia’s Christians.

“It’s a pressure point that can be used against Christians and especially against converts from one faith to another,” Nettleton said. He explained that in many countries government officials will refuse to grant a new ID card to someone converting to Christianity.

Indonesian Muslims were divided on the proposal. The vice chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) did not have a problem with people choosing not to list their religion on their ID, The Jakarta Post said. MUI is the top Muslim clerical body in Indonesia, according to Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs. But the paper also said some Muslim politicians spoke out against the proposal, saying it conflicted with the nation’s philosophy of “Pancasila,” which includes belief in only one god.

There was also potential good news for Nepali Christians. AsiaNews reported that Nepal’s Human Rights Commission (NHRC) president Anu Raj Sharma said, “The NHRC is ready to fight for the rights of all citizens of Nepal. Christians have my word: I will raise the Christian voice before the competent authority.”

The committee expressed a desire for all citizens to be able to choose their faith, AsiaNews said. NHRC will meet with the president and prime minister soon. Conversion to Christianity from Hinduism is still viewed negatively within Nepal.

“I think it is a good step in the right direction,” Nettleton said. But he wasn’t sure how much impact it will have on Christians in Nepal who face persecution for converting.

“The challenge is the biggest persecutor in Nepal is not the government. It’s the Maoists. It is the Hindu nationalists, that ideology creeping up from India,” Nettleton said.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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