Another mob attack on Christian worshipers in Bekasi on Sunday has led to renewed calls for police and national leaders to crack down on the apparently swelling tide of religious violence.
About 20 members of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) in Pondok Timur Indah were chased and beaten with sticks by a mob believed linked to the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) after they tried to conduct Sunday services at a field in Ciketing, Bekasi.
The HKBP church house had been sealed by authorities in June as part of the agreement between Bekasi Mayor Mochtar Muhammad and Murhali Barda, the leader of the Bekasi chapter of the FPI.
Witnesses said the attackers appeared to be FPI members, and the attack comes just a day after Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo drew criticism for attending the hard-line group’s anniversary party and asking it to report abuses of religious laws over Ramadan, which begins this week.
Saor Siagian, the church’s legal representative, said more than 20 members of the congregation were assaulted on Sunday. “We already reported this to the National Police and I also accompanied them for a medical examination at the Kramat Jati Police hospital,” he said.
“[Onlookers] and the police were just watching while they cornered me and the others,” said the Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak of the HKBP, who said she was beaten with a stick.
Although the attackers claimed they were neighborhood residents, FPI’s Murhali was on hand and locals identified the attackers as outsiders, said Indra Listiantara, a researcher with the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, who witnessed the violence.
Attack on church sparks widespread outrage
Muslims nationwide have condemned a hard-line Islamic organization for an attack on a church group on Sunday, saying the incident had tarnished the image of Islam.
The public reaction surfaced in response to an assault allegedly carried out by the Islamic Community Forum (FUI) on Sunday morning against the HKBP Filadelfia church congregation in Bekasi, West Java, injuring about 20 people, mostly women.
The attack, just one day after Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo and Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Timur Pradopo met with the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI), an FUI affiliate, sparked outrage among people from social analysts to laymen.
On the social networking website Twitter, the FPI was the fourth most discussed topic globally at press time on Sunday despite the group’s leader, Rizieq Shihab, having denied FPI’s involvement in the attack.
One harsh “tweet” was posted by Wanda Chairunisa, who said: “FPI has no correlation with Islam, they don’t belong to Islam, they don’t even belong in this country.”
Another topic under discussion titled Dismissing FPI (Bubarkan FPI) appeared on Twitter with posts denouncing the FPI as “Indonesia’s biggest enemy”.
Most comments have called on the government to dismantle the hard-line organization, whose history is marred with violence.
No investigations have been carried out to stop those responsible from carrying out further attacks despite efforts from the locals to report cases to the police and human rights commissions.
Instead, the authorities have embraced the FPI, involving them in efforts to enforce a city bylaw banning entertainment centers from operating during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.