No ‘Culture of Denial’ in Indonesia: SBY to Ambassadors

Ismira Lutfia | February 16, 2012, Jakarta Globe

Inter-religious strife is just media hype, rights abuses in Papua don’t go unpunished and the current anti-corruption drive is the most aggressive in the country’s history, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told foreign ambassadors on Wednesday.

In his address at the Foreign Ministry to 119 of the 128 ambassadors to Indonesia, the president echoed the same positive sentiments that he aired two days earlier in a tightly controlled, nationally televised question and answer session with journalists.

He assured the ambassadors that on the issue of interreligious conflict, “things aren’t as bad as the mass media is reporting.”

“In general, religious harmony and national harmony are being well-maintained,” Yudhoyono said, going on to distance himself from allegations of double standards in justice.

“No [violations] are going unnoticed,” he said.

He said that also applied to the persecution of the Ahmadiyah Islamic sect in various regions.

Hard-line Muslims have attacked the minority community, destroyed its mosques, schools and homes, driven them out of villages and killed several Ahmadis in recent years.

In the most brutal attack, which took place last year, three Ahmadis were beaten to death by a mob of more than 1,000. Only a dozen people were convicted, all of whom received sentences of six months or less.

Yudhoyono said that in the case of the Ahmadis, they were free to worship as they saw fit, but only if it did not offend other Muslims.

Given that 90 percent of the population is Muslim, he said, the state has a responsibility to step is whenever a different creed was introduced.

“It’s the duty of the state to organize and arrange [the new faith] in order to avoid clashes that threaten the social structure,” the president said.

On the issue of Papua, where the military have frequently been accused of human-rights violations in trying to quell a low-level separatist movement, Yudhoyono conceded there were rights abuses but insisted they were being swiftly dealt with.

“The guilty will certainly be punished. There is no impunity or culture of denial,” he said.

“We always follow due legal process because we want to be transparent.”

After a brutal crackdown in October on a peaceful protest in Papua that left at least three unarmed civilians dead, the police officers found responsible received written warnings and other administrative sanctions.

Yudhoyono also said that since becoming president, he had changed the government’s stance in dealing with the region’s problems from a military-based approach to what he termed a community empowerment and development approach.

“In the future, I and the government will work seriously to resolve the problems in Papua,” he said. “We will also nurture dialogue with community leaders to listen to their critiques and corrections.”

The president also touted his fight against corruption as unprecedented in scale. “We are carrying out the most aggressive anti corruption campaign in Indonesian history,” he said.

“In the midst of a frenetic democracy and political uproar, I’m staying focused and not getting sidetracked in running my mandate to achieve strategic development in the coming years.”

The political uproar he referred to was the scandal in which his own Democratic Party was mired. The party’s former treasurer, Muhammad Nazaruddin, is standing trial for bid-rigging, while a top legislator has been named a suspect in the same case. The party chairman and other officials have also been named as involved in the same scandal.

“I realize there’s still a long way to go and much to do before we reach a point where we can feel comfortable [about the progress made],” Yudhoyono said.

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