COUNTRY PROFILE: INDONESIA
Updated October 2015
Population: 255.9 million
Religion: Muslim 80.3%; Christian 15.8%; Hindu 1.3%; Other 2.6%
Indonesia, a vast collection of some 13,500 islands and 300 ethnic groups, has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world.
Indonesia was colonised by the Portuguese then the Dutch, was occupied by the Japanese and only won full independence in 1949.
From 1965, it came under the authoritarian rule of General Suharto who held power for 32 years. It was 2004 before the country held its first direct presidential elections.
The army, which Suharto involved in every level of government, still wields enormous power and influence. The election of President Joko Widodo in October 2014 – the first president not to have come from the military or political elite – was hailed as an important milestone in the country’s transition to democracy.
There is officially no state religion – but Islam seems to be gaining strength politically, often at the expense of religious minorities such as Christians. The semi-autonomous province of Aceh, for example, has imposed Sharia or Islamic law.
Christians say they are being marginalised – and persecuted. Many house churches have been closed by officials apparently bowing to pressure from Islamic hardliners.
Nationally, they have been the target of a concerted campaign by militant Islamist groups bent on the total Islamisation of the archipelago. Groups such as Laskar Jihad have carried out jihad or holy war against Christian communities, particularly in the Moluccas and Central Sulawesi between 1999 and 2002.
This wave of violence pitted Muslim and Christian communities against each other, with casualties on both sides. The 2002 Malino Peace Accord signed in Maluku marked the start of a reconciliation process and a fragile peace.
The Indonesian army was frequently accused of complicity and involvement in attacks on Christian communities.
Indonesian Christians remain concerned that Islamic hardliners are gaining ground politically. Bills inspired by Sharia are becoming law at provincial level and have even been proposed at national level.
Congregations and Christian organisations continue to encounter significant hurdles to registering and obtaining building permits, and can face opposition, even violent attacks, by Islamic hardliners.
In August 2015, more than a thousand Muslim demonstrators staged a rally in North Bekasi, near Jakarta, urging local authorities to revoke a building permit for a church in a strongly-Muslim area.
And, two months later, several churches were set alight in southern Aceh, following demands by extremist groups for more than 20 churches to be closed down because, they said, they lacked proper permits. Up to 700 armed men attacked one church.
Some churches have been ‘homeless’ for years as they have waited for their cases to be resolved. The GKI Yasmin church in Bogor, West Java, had its permit revoked by local officials in 2008, following pressure from local residents. Its building was sealed in 2010. Local officials have ignored a subsequent Supreme Court ruling that the church permit be restored to them. West Java remains an area of particular concern for religious intolerance.
Current and recent projects include:
Supporting the families of believers from a Muslim background who have had to relocate due to hostility from people in their villages.
Sources: BBC; Britannica Online Encyclopaedia; International Christian Concern; Jakarta Post; Operation World; Release International; The World Factbook 2015.
Updated October 2015