The Indonesian government has been accused by an American watchdog of violating its citizens’ right to religious freedom, according to a recent report.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal advisory body created by the International Religious Freedom Act to monitor religious freedom abuses abroad, in a report on Tuesday highlighted the status of religious freedom globally and identified the governments that are the most egregious violators.
“The state of international religious freedom is increasingly dire due to the presence of forces that fuel instability. These forces include the rise of violent religious extremism coupled with the actions and inactions of governments,” Katrina Lantos Swett, USCIRF’s chair, said in a USCIRF statement obtained in Jakarta on Thursday.
Lantos also said that extremists have been targeting religious minorities and dissenters from majority religious communities with violence, including physical assaults and even murder.
“Authoritarian governments also repress religious freedom through intricate webs of discriminatory rules, arbitrary requirements and draconian edicts,” Lantos said.
The USCIRF included Indonesia, alongside Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia, in a list of countries where it had found that governments were engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious rights.
The violations committed in those countries met at least one criterion of the IRFA’s three-fold “systematic, ongoing, egregious” standard, the USCIRF said.
In Indonesia, the country’s rich tradition of religious tolerance and pluralism has been seriously threatened by arrests of individuals the government considers religiously deviant and violence perpetrated by extremist groups, the USCIRF said. Federal and provincial officials, police, courts and religious leaders often tolerate and aid in the conduct of religious freedom abusers, the report added.
In Russia, religious freedom suffered major setbacks in the context of growing human rights abuses, the US advisory body said.
In the report, the USCIRF recommended that the American government re-designate Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan as “countries of particular concern.” Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam also fell into the USCIRF’s suggestion for the CPC status.
The report said that it was ultimately about people and how their governments treat them. Violations affect members of diverse religious communities around the world.
“We recommend that the White House adopt a whole-of-government strategy to guide US religious freedom promotion and that Secretary of State [John] Kerry promptly designate CPCs, before currently designated actions expire later this year,” said Lantos.
In Myanmar, ongoing political reforms have yet to significantly improve the situation for freedom of religion and belief. Sectarian violence and severe abuses of religious freedom and human dignity targeting ethnic minority Christians and Muslims continue to occur with impunity, the report said.
In Egypt, despite some progress during a turbulent political transition, the government has failed or been slow to protect from violence religious minorities, particularly Coptic Christians, the USCIRF said. It added that the government continues to prosecute, convict, and imprison individuals for “contempt” or “defamation” of religion, and the new constitution includes several problematic provisions relevant to religious freedom.
In both Pakistan and Nigeria, religious extremism and impunity have factored into unprecedented levels of violence that threaten the long-term viability of both nations, it said. Targeted violence against Shia Muslims in Pakistan is pervasive, while repeated Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria exacerbate sectarian tensions, the report stated.
“Many of these countries top the US foreign policy agenda, and religion is a core component in their makeup. Successful US foreign policy recognizes the critical role religious freedom plays in each of these nations and prioritizes accordingly. Religious freedom is both a pivotal human right under international law and a key factor that helps determine whether a nation experiences stability or chaos,” said Lantos.