Yogyakarta governor apologises to Catholic family forced to alter cross for burial

The family of Albertus Slamet Sugihardi was prohibited by Muslim neighbours from holding prayers for their dead relative and placing a wooden cross on his grave.
The family of Albertus Slamet Sugihardi was prohibited by Muslim neighbours from holding prayers for their dead relative and placing a wooden cross on his grave.PHOTO: THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

YOGYAKARTA (JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Yogyakarta administration has apologised to a Catholic family after they were prohibited by Muslim neighbours from holding prayers for their dead relative and placing a wooden cross on his grave.

"Even though the incident was not intentional, I, as a leader of the region, apologise to Bu Slamet and her entire family and also the Catholic Church officials in Yogyakarta and Kotagede who have been disturbed by the incident," Yogyakarta Governor Hamengkubuwono, who is also the 10th Yogyakarta sultan, told reporters on Thursday (Dec 20).

"This incident is a lesson to all of us. Yogyakarta leaders and people must uphold tolerance to maintain peace and harmony."

The apology came three days after the incident, which sparked national outrage and forced the usually restrained Catholic Church to release one of its strongest statements against the authorities for allegedly failing to protect minority groups.

Albertus Slamet Sugihardi, who died on Monday at the age of 63, was buried at a local cemetery in Purbayan. His neighbours demanded that any Christian symbols be removed from his grave as the cemetery would be made exclusive for Muslims, and the community sawed off part of a wooden cross Slamet's family had put on his grave.

The governor insisted that Yogyakarta was a tolerant province, claiming that Slamet's family and the local community had made an agreement to maintain harmony.

He added, however, that the Purbayan residents acted in ways that were not in line with the Constitution.

 

"We understand the Constitution and the law. But there is no guarantee that the people understand it. It is possible they are looking for practical solutions. The point is that they looked for a solution to prevent tension."

He lamented that the incident went viral on social media, which he said did not provide a complete picture of what happened.

He said he was informed that the villagers helped Slamet's family with his funeral and that the act of cutting the cross was done to preserve harmony.

"Perhaps the community was only trying to be practical. Meanwhile, there is a constitutional reference on religious symbols. That was ignored."

Previously, the Semarang Catholic Archdiocese claimed the incident in Purbayan was a violation against the state ideology Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution.

The church reached the conclusion following an investigation conducted by its commission on peace and justice in Yogyakarta.

"The duty of the security agency and the government is to protect the human rights and basic rights of citizens," Agus Sumartoyo, who heads the commission's investigative team, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The commission claimed Slamet's family had to deal with acts of intolerance despite his efforts to live harmoniously with his neighbours.

They were even once physically threatened, Agus said.

The team sent out by the commission also found that a written statement indicating that Maria Sutris Winarni, Slamet's wife, would not make an issue of the incident was drafted and sent to her by seven people representing village officials, the police and the local military command.

Winarni told the church she was told to sign the statement to defuse tension on social media over the incident.

Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko from the Bishops Council of Indonesia (KWI) said he hoped the local government would be impartial and create a forum where all parties could sit together to get to the root of the problem to prevent it from spiralling into something bigger.

"If there is indeed any indication that this had been planned, then this is a sign that intolerance has become a serious problem in Yogyakarta," he said.