Marchio Irfan Gorbiano, Jakarta – In response to a question about protests against a church renovation in Tanjung Balai, Karimun, Riau Islands, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said he had called for firm action to ensure that religious freedom was upheld, while adding that such matters were the responsibility of regional administrations.
"Our Constitution clearly protects the freedom for every citizen and their right to worship according to their beliefs," Jokowi said in a press briefing at the State Palace in Central Jakarta on Wednesday.
"I have instructed the coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister and the National Police chief to take firm action against groups or people that disturb [people's right to worship] according to the Constitution. Intolerance should not exist," he added.
The renovation of the 92-year-old Santo Joseph Catholic Church in Karimun, Riau Islands, was halted last week following protests by local groups.
The church, which was established in 1928, obtained a building license for the renovation last October but had postponed activity after objections from the local United Muslim Forum and the Karimun Regency Caring Alliance.
Jokowi also mentioned an incident in North Minahasa, North Sulawesi, when a meeting hall for Muslims was vandalized by locals.
"I had hoped that the regional administrations could resolve these issues," he said. "But because I did not see any action taken by the regions I have ordered the coordinating political, legal and security affairs minister and the National Police chief to resolve both the incident involving the church in Karimun and the mosque in North Minahasa."
Jokowi's comment about such incidents being the responsibility of regional administrations drew criticism from interfaith activist Alissa Wahid, the daughter of former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid.
"Sir, matters of religion cannot be left to regional autonomy, because the faithful are spread all throughout Indonesia, while regional heads are only focused on their own regions, which is understandable," she tweeted. "There should be centralized law enforcement based on citizens' constitutional rights."
She added that she hoped Jokowi's instructions could be formulated into a more sustainable policy that could be applied to the whole country, "not just Minahasa or Karimun." (dpk)