Tension in East Java over statue of deity

The statue of Guan Yu, a general worshipped by some Chinese people, being partially covered up on Sunday in Tuban, East Java, after protests by Muslims and nationalists. Some residents say the statue is good for tourism.
The statue of Guan Yu, a general worshipped by some Chinese people, being partially covered up on Sunday in Tuban, East Java, after protests by Muslims and nationalists. Some residents say the statue is good for tourism.PHOTO: REUTERS

Officials urged not to bow to calls for 30m-tall figure of Chinese general to be torn down

TUBAN (East Java) • Indonesia has urged officials to stand up to mob pressure after Muslim and nationalist protesters called for a 30m-tall statue of a Chinese deity erected in a temple complex in an East Java town to be torn down.

The brightly painted statue of Guan Yu, a general who is worshipped by some Chinese people, was inaugurated last month in a temple complex in the fishing town of Tuban, and is claimed to be South-east Asia's tallest representation of the deity.

The statue in Tuban, about 100km west of the city of Surabaya, has been partially covered up after the protests, provoking both praise and ridicule on social media in the world's most populous Muslim- majority country.

Mr Teten Masduki, chief of staff to President Joko Widodo, told reporters: "If they ask for the statue to be torn down, the authorities cannot bow to such pressure."

Protesters demonstrated this week outside Surabaya's Parliament against the statue, some wearing paramilitary-style outfits and waving placards that read "Demolish it" and "We are not worshippers of idols".

Allowing a depiction of a foreign general was "a symbol of treason to this nation", an unnamed protester said in a video of the rally on news portal Kompas.com.

Officials of the Kwan Sing Bio Temple in Tuban declined to comment, but the media have quoted residents as saying the statue was good for tourism.

It was earlier speculated that the uproar over the statue was triggered by internal management conflicts at Kwan Sing Bio, South-east Asia's largest Chinese temple.

A building construction permit for the statue has been held up as "the temple's management has not yet been officially determined", said Mr Gatot Seger Santoso, chairman of East Java's chapter of the Chinese Indonesian Association.

Indonesia is a secular state whose Constitution enshrines religious freedom and diversity, but there are concerns that rising intolerance threatens its reputation for moderate Islam.

Muslims form about 85 per cent of the population, but there are also substantial Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and other minorities.

Religious tension has soared this year after Islamist-led rallies saw Jakarta's incumbent governor, a member of a so-called double minority - ethnic Chinese and Christian - put on trial during city elections over allegations that he insulted the Quran.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was later jailed for two years for blasphemy.

The protests against the statue were primarily about nationalism, said East Java lawmaker Suli Da'im.

"What they were protesting about is that the statue does not represent their general or commander," he said.

REUTERS, JAKARTA POST/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2017, with the headline 'Tension in East Java over statue of deity'. Print Edition | Subscribe