Apr 03, 2020 Last Updated 5:13 AM, Mar 31, 2020

Bandung, city of human rights?

Published: Dec 01, 2019

Fanny Syariful Alam

On 10 December 2015 Bandung’s then mayor Ridwan Kamil signed the Bandung City of Human Rights Charter, honouring the city’s official commitment to uphold the human rights of all its citizens, made on 2 April earlier that year. Following up on the declaration and the signing of the charter, in 2016 the mayor issued three circular letters addressing the question of freedom of religion. The first, in July, prohibited demonstrations in front of places of worship. The other two, in December, dealt with spaces where worship and other religious events could be held, including a guarantee to allow public worshipping and events by any religious group.

These last letters were issued the day after an incident at ITB (Bandung Technological University) where a religious group named PAS (Penegak Ahlul Sunnah, Defenders of the Sunnah) interrupted pastor Stephen Tong's Revival Worship event to welcome Christmas. The protesters claimed that the event did not have a permit to continue until the end of the night. In the past, however, the same event had always been conducted in the same building without any issue. When the interruption happened, no one understood how PAS had gained access to the building, or why the police did not make a serious attempt to stop the protest.

Incidents of intolerance

Since then, several incidents have put Bandung’s status as a human rights city to the test. In 2017, Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (Indonesian Educational University) in Bandung issued a statement declaring that newly registered students were not allowed to address LGBT issues in their student activities. This immediately created a controversy. The Bandung Legal Aid Institute reminded the university that educational institutions had to accept students regardless of their backgrounds, including their sexual orientation. They also argued that the statement contradicted the state’s commitment to the protection of human rights, citing Indonesia’s ratification of the International Conference on Civil and Political Rights (Act no.12/2005).

On 20 September 2018, a group of protesters, including affiliates of Anti-Shia National Alliance, the FPI (Islamic Defenders Front), PAS and Jawara Sunda (Sunda Brigand), gathered on Kembar Sari Indah II street, Bandung, voicing their objection against the Syiah celebration of Asyura. They claimed that the Syiah community in Bandung had committed blasphemy against pure Islamic teaching, particularly through this festival. Hundreds of police officers guarded the festival, while the protesters kept yelling that it should be disbanded entirely. The situation got especially tense when protesters started yelling: ‘Don’t let Shia fool you!’ at several mothers with children who were trying to enter the festival building. In this case, the police responded by protecting the women and children and by helping them enter.

A few months later, on the 25 December 2018, vice mayor Yana Mulyana, who represented the newly elected mayor Oded Danial, spoke at a Christmas open house event in Bandung’s St Petrus Cathedral for an audience of interfaith activists. He refrained from commenting on incidents of intolerance, such as the protests against the Asyura festival, but emphasised that Bandung could be a city of harmony. The open house event itself, he added, provided evidence that Bandung was one of the most religiously tolerant cities in Indonesia.

St Petrus Cathedral, Bandung

Yet, less than two weeks later another incident cast a shadow on the city. On 5 January 2019, a group named Paguyuban Pen a gawal NKRI (United Defenders of Indonesia) gathered at Bandung’s Mubarak Mosque to demonstrate against the discussion of a book by Haqiqatul Wahy. The protesters argued that Ahmadiyya teachings would be shared during the discussion. They appealed to formal regulations that restrict open Ahmadiyya activities, specifically a joint degree by three ministers from 2008 and the Governor’s Act on the Restriction of Ahmadiyya Activities in West Java (2011). At first, the protesters demanded the event be disbanded. However, after negotiating with the police and Mansyur Ahmad, the head of Bandung’s Ahmadiyya community, in talks monitored by the Coordinating Agency for the Monitoring of Societal Beliefs, the event continued, though was significantly shortened.

Muslim friendly city

Concurrent with its ambiguous approach towards religious minorities, in recent years Bandung’s administration has started to promote an Islamic image of the city. For example, in April 2016 then mayor Ridwan Kamil launched Magrib Mengaji (Qur’an recitation at sunset) for the city’s children and young people, and in January 2017 he followed it up with with Subuh Bersama (Dawn Prayer Together) to motivate young people to pray more frequently at the mosque. Most recently, in September 2019, the newly elected city mayor Oded Danial initiated the Muslim Friendly City campaign in Bandung and announced a plan for halal tourism.

All these various initiatives received a lot of support from the general public, but raise some critical questions. How does the prioritising of (mainstream) Muslims affect the municipality’s policy on minority religious groups? Do other groups enjoy equal freedom to stage events and festivals? Do they enjoy the full protection of the municipality if their events are threatened with protest or forcibly disbanded? Currently, the municipality’s tendency to show partiality towards one majority religious group threatens to create a gap between religious communities in the city.

What is next?

The statement and declaration of Bandung as the City of Human Rights shows goodwill on the part of Bandung’s authorities with regard to eradicating intolerance. Right after the declaration, there were many welcoming responses, with civil society groups underlining the importance of governmental action if intolerance against minorities took place. Although many activists have worked on this issue together with students, academics, religious leaders and community representatives, lots of work still needs to be done. Government participation in activists’ workshops on human rights is limited. And while Ridwan Kamil’s 2016 letters ensured that all the staff in the city’s municipal office had some awareness of policies against intolerance, more significant intolerant practices seem hard to eradicate.

The road ahead should not focus primarily on how to improve the rank of Bandung on the City of Tolerance Index published by the Setara Research Institute (it is now in position 69 out of 94 cities with a score of 4.41). Rather, for the city’s human rights activists, the emphasis should be on how to promote awareness among the government and all the groups mentioned above: awareness of the importance of freedom of religion as a part of civil and human rights, particularly in Bandung. Then, the city could work towards a positive re-implementation of Bandung as City of Human Rights.

Fanny Syariful Alam (fannyplum@gmail.com) is regional coordinator at the Bandung School of Peace Indonesia.

Inside Indonesia 138: Oct-Dec 2019

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