December 10, 2013
About 400 people gathered in Central Jakarta on November 16th to mark International Tolerance Day, handing out flowers and stickers with messages of tolerance and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika: Unity In Diversity.
The demonstrators, representing a range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), pledged to respect differences of religion, culture, ethnicity, gender, clan and sexual orientation in society. They urged religious leaders, government officials and fellow citizens to do the same.
Similar events were held in Aceh, Makassar, Cirebon, Bandung, Solo, Yogyakarta and Surabaya.
"Today on the International Tolerance Day, we are committed to live in peace and appreciate diversity in the community. Bhinneka Tunggal Ika is not just sweet words, it is our motto," said Bonar Tigor Naipospos of the Civil Society Coalition on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
Many activists expressed concern for what they said was growing intolerance in Indonesia. According to research by the SETARA Institute for Democracy and Peace, 213 cases of intolerance and 243 cases of religious freedom violations occurred across Indonesia from January to November 2013.
"Violent acts in our community are evidence that intolerance is still happening. We expect to eliminate these acts," said Hilal Safary of the institute.
"I think reminding society and educating them about tolerance will improve our community and strengthen our social trust," said Anang Masykur of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).
Albert Hasibuan, a member of the Presidential Advisory Council, said he would continue to provide input to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on issues related to religious freedom. He said he was optimistic tolerance in Indonesia can be improved.
"The president is also committed to this as well," Albert told reporters at his office.
The majority should protect the minority
Among those present at the event was Pastor Palti Panjaitan of Filadelfia Batak Protestant Church (HKBP Filadelfia), whose congregation has been barred by local authorities from worshipping at their church in Bekasi.
He agreed that commemorating International Tolerance Day would remind everyone to be respectful of fellow citizens. "Be tolerant and respectful of differences," he said.
"The majority should protect the minority. Differences should not trigger violence. We can use differences as a tool to complement each other," he said.
To solve the problem of intolerance, the government must remain neutral, enforce the law and protect every citizen, as mandated by the constitution, Hertasning Ichlas, director of the Legal Aid Foundation Universalia (YLBHU), told Khabar Southeast Asia.
"We must raise awareness for tolerance so that Indonesia can be saved," he said.