Indonesia village scraps Muslim-only regulation after backlash

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A regulation by a village in Central Java considered discriminatory against non-Muslims has been revoked following an incident that went viral on social media earlier this week.

The agreement, which was enacted in 2015 by the Karet village activity group (Pokgiat) in Pleret subdistrict, Bantul regency, Yogyakarta, banned non-Muslims from residing or owning land in the village.

"We will revise the agreement document and maintain the good points as well as revising the ones considered to be discriminatory to non-Muslims," Pleret subdistrict head Norman Afandi said at a meeting with Yogyakarta Home Affairs Agency head Edhi Gunawan and Bantul Interfaith Forum chairman Yasmuri on Wednesday (April 3).

They visited Karet following an incident in which local residents reportedly refused to rent a house in the village to a Christian family.

"We came here to get more information and to convey Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saaefuddin's sympathy to what Pak Slamet has experienced," Mr Edhi said.

The incident occurred last Saturday when Mr Slamet Jumiarto, 42, wanted to move into his rented house in Karet, he added.

On Sunday, Mr Slamet went to the chairman of the local neighbourhood unit (RT) to report his move and to hand over copies of his family card, ID and marriage certificate.

To his surprise, the RT chairman told him he could not live in the village because he was not a Muslim according to Karet village Regulation No. 3/2015.

Mr Slamet, a Roman Catholic, said he tried to meet the village's head to discuss the matter, to no avail.

Instead, he decided to record a four-minute message on WhatsApp and shared it with friends, as well as the secretary of Yogyakarta's governor and Sultan Hamengkubuwono X.

The message eventually reached the secretary of the Bantul regency administration, who promptly went to the Pleret subdistrict hall on Monday to investigate the incident.

"Unfortunately, I did not get a full picture of the incident and suggested a meeting should be held in Karet involving all related parties including the residents, district and regency administrations and the police," Mr Norman said.

They agreed to the meeting on Monday and all parties agreed to revoke the regulation.

"It's all clear now. It's settled. I am relieved," said Mr Slamet who comes from Semarang, Central Java, but has been living in Yogyakarta for years without incident.

Rights advocacy group the Setara Institute said regulations like this paved the way for communities to discriminate against minority groups.

"Discriminatory regulations at the national level trigger the emergence of similar regulations at regional level," Setara's research director Halili said.

The country, he added, had at least 72 discriminatory by-laws spread across 34 provinces, including over 200 minor discriminatory regulations, such as circulars and instruction letters.

Indonesian Communion of Churches secretary-general Rev Gomar Gultom said such regulations were a threat to Indonesia's multi-religious and multi-ethnic society. "We should fight against segregation."

Indonesian Ulema Council's (MUI) secretary-general Anwar Abbas highlighted the importance of introduction when someone from a different faith was about to enter a homogeneous community, saying doing so was necessary to avoid any misconceptions.

"Muslim-majority residents might be afraid that the newcomers will conduct missionary work in the village," said Mr Anwar.

Yogyakarta is ranked 41st out of 94 cities in Setara Institute's 2018 Tolerant Cities Index.