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Student activists demand Minister of Religion resign

Info Pembebasan (Liberation) - June 27, 1997

[The following is a translation of a statement sent to Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET) by the underground Peoples Democratic Party (PRD)]

On Monday, June 23, around 50 students from a number of universities in Yogyakarta [Central Java] coming together under the banner of the Peoples' Anti-Violence Movement (Gerakan Rakyat anti Kekerasan, GERAK), held a free speech forum at the Gadjah Mada university, Yogyakarta. Although at the time students were busy with exams, the protests action against Minister of Religion Tarmizi Taher's sharp religious instruction [fatwa] attracted a lot of enthusiasm from students.

The students made three demands:

  1. Withdrawal of Tarmizi Taher's statement
  2. That Taher resign from his post as Minister of Religion
  3. That Taher apologise to the Indonesian people, in particular to the grandchildren of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI)

According to one of the orators, Taher's statement which said that [to shed the] blood and lives of rioters is "halal" (1) is a tyrannical religious instruction. No religion has ever instructed its followers to arbitrarily kill a person. He also said that the ministers statement shows that the minister is neither wise nor just, because he does not see what was behind the mass rioting in Indonesia. That in truth the riots were so violent because the people had no other channel for their aspirations, most of all social inequality, corruption, collusion and the fraud by Golkar in the general elections.

Another speaker at the action said that the New Order is a regime which uses religion to legitimise itself. At this time the New Order is experiencing a crisis of its legitimacy. This is apparent from the fervor of the people's resistance and the swiftness of international protest. At a time like this, the New Order hides behind religion, in this case Islam, to safeguard its power. By attracting anti-PKI sentiment, the New Order hopes to again get the support of the Islamic community to destroy the pro-democracy movement.

However it seems that Islam can no longer be tricked by the military regime of the New Order. Islam has already been tricked by the New Order, that is using the military to overthrow the Sukarno government and murder PKI members and sections of the Indonesian Nationalist Party (PNI). As a consequence the people and western countries become afraid of Islam in Indonesia and the Islamic movement is suspected of being a fundamentalist movement. However after the New Order gained power, Islam itself was isolated from politics. Furthermore, many Islamic people were butchered by the military, such as communities in Aceh, Lampung, Tanjung Priok, Sampang, Haur Koneng and other places (2). The students hoped that Islam would not be used like this a second time.

When the regime is cornered, the people who became the regime's accomplices rant and rave about the intimate relationship between the Islamic community and the government. In reality this is nothing more than lies. The ones with an intimate relationship with the authorities are only the "yellow ulamas" (3), who have already been coopted by state pary Golkar. However, the PPP (United Development Party) which has a basis in the Islamic community continues to be blocked by the authorities. A number of PPP regional offices have been attacked by Golkar, many participants in PPP campaigns were shot by the armed forces and PPP was cheated in the elections.

Several days before, the Yogakarta Islamic Student League (Liga Mahasiswa Muslim Yogyakarta, LMMY) released a statement demanding that the religious instruction be withdrawn and Tarmizi apologise. The accusation that grand-children of the PKI were the one's who caused the riots was rash and hasty. According to LMMY, in Islam there is no concept of "hereditary sin". So while those people who became members of the PKI may be considered at fault, we cannot also blame the grand-children of the PKI who know nothing of this.

A women who was present at the action said that Tarmizi's statement showed that the minister is a person who has a grudge against the PKI, and is now slandering their grand-children. The minister of religion has never carried out an investigation into whether it is true that the grand-children of the PKI masterminded the riots. However, without any factual bases the minister said that the grand-children of the PKI caused the riots. What is this if not slander.

An orator who appeared full of emotion said that Tarmizi's statement is not strange recalling Tarmizi's military background (Navy). In reality Tarmizi knows little about religion, particularly Islam. He is only a bureaucrat who's job is to oversee religion, to restrain and manipulate religion in Indonesia. So when he gave the religious instruction, it was very apparent that he is a fascist, what comes out of his mouth is only shots and murder.

This statement was released by:

Dewan Mahasiswa UGM (DEMA UGM), Gajah Mada Student Council Perjuangan Pemuda untuk Demokrasi (PPD), Youth Struggle for Democracy Komite Aksi Mahasiswa Muslim Independen (KAMMI), Independent Muslim Student Action Committee

Several days before, students from the State Islamic Religious Institute (Institute Agama Islam Negeri, IAIN) Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta, also held a protest action against Tarmizi's religious instruction.


1. Halal: Islamic term meaning to be allowed, permitted, kosher

2. This refers to a number of incidents in which Islamic movements/groups have been violently suppressed by the military. Aceh refers to the separatist movement in North Sumatra in which (depending on the particular source) as many as 2,000 may have been killed in the early 90s. Lampung refers to the killing of as many as 100 people in 1989 when troops attacked a what the government called a "deviant" Muslim sect in a village in Lampung, South Sumatra. Tanjung Priok refers to 1984 killings of Islamic protesters during a rally in the North of Jakarta. Sampang and Haur Koneng were also incidents where members Islamic groups were killed by the military.

3. Ulama Kuning: "Yellow Islamic leaders/teachers/scholars", ie who have been coopted by the regime.

[Translated by James Balowski]