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PSI slams older parties for silence on Jambi church closings and other religious freedom violations

Coconuts Jakarta - March 12, 2019

The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) – one of the country's youngest and certainly its most liberal political party – does not yet have any members in parliament (their cadres will contest legislative seats across the country for the first time on April 17's national election) but has already made quite a name for itself with its unabashedly progressive stance and the scathing criticisms of the establishment put forth by the party's founder, Grace Natalie.

Natalie's latest speech, criticizing older political parties that have stayed silent on numerous violations of religious freedoms so as not to upset their ever-more conservative bases, has won plaudits from many but also earned her party harsh words not only from the opposition but from fellow parties supporting the re-election of President Joko Widodo in April.

Natalie's speech, given yesterday at PSI's 11th Festival in Medan, made specific reference to a few notorious instances of religious minorities being persecuted in various parts of the country.

"Why were you silent, when on September 27th, three churches were sealed in Jambi because of the threat and pressure of the masses?" Natalie asked during the speech.

The PSI founder was referring to the closure of three churches in the East Sumatran city of Jambi last year. Although the building had been houses of worship for well over a decade, police said that they lacked the proper permits while other officials admitted it was due to pressure from certain organizations.

Natalie referred to other incidents as well, such as when a mob of residents stormed a house-turned-church in Medan in January on allegations it did not have the proper permits and the case of Meiliana, the Chinese-Indonesian woman who was sentenced to six months prison for blasphemy because she supposedly complained about the volume of a mosque near her house.

The so-called "millennial party" leader said PSI's destiny was to give discomfort to the other parties still entrenched in the old ways of Indonesian politics. "We will disturb the long naps of politicians who only work once every five years," Natalie said.

As scathing as Natalie's criticism was, perhaps the most controversial aspect of it was that she included fellow parties in the administration's coalition backing the re-election of President Jokowi.

"To other parties, both in [Prabowo's] coalition and [Jokowi's], we apologize. Even though we are in the same boat, who all want Pak Jokowi win again, but that does not mean we have no differences. PSI is like Jokowi, the antithesis of old politics," Natalie said.

Unlike some of Natalie's previous controversial speeches, which touched on highly-sensitive issues like polygamy and religious-based laws, yesterday's oration was not reported to the police for blasphemy or hate speech. But it quickly drew rebuke from several senior politicians.

Gerindra deputy chairman Fadli Zon probably didn't surprise anybody by dismissing Natalie's speech as "positioning because [PSI's] electability has not gone up" and like she was "practicing giving a speech in front of a mirror".

Harsher words were arguably spoken by Hendrawan Supratikno, the chairman of the executive board of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), the ruling party of President Joko Widodo. He accused PSI of being more about talk than action.

"Maybe this new party does not have enough information. In some cases, they seem superficial or overdramatic," Hendrawan told reporters today as quoted by Detik.

The senior PDI-P official went on to say that PSI is perhaps more interested in talking about problems than solving them in the field and argued that some of the religious freedom issues activists were worried about were hyperbolized by politics.

He did not, however, say what PDI-P was doing to help remedy the situations Natalie actually mentioned, such as the church sealing in Jambi (which still hasn't been resolved).

Some have argued that PSI is too out-of-touch and idealistic to make a major impact on Indonesian politics, but even if all they do is force other political parties to acknowledge the increasingly blatant but otherwise unremarked upon persecution of minorities, then that is still a lot.

Source: https://coconuts.co/jakarta/news/psi-criticizes-older-parties-silence-jambi-church-closings-religious-freedom-violations/