Indonesian govt to celebrate Religious Harmony Day

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend the inaugural Religious Harmony Day at the National Monument (Monas) in Central Jakarta on Sunday amid a number of cases of religious intolerance that marred 2013.

Head of the organising committee, Kamaruddin Amin, said the event, which was initiated by the Religious Affairs Ministry, would not only be celebrated in Jakarta, but also in 17 other provinces.

"Around 70,000 people will join a walk from Monas to the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle on Sunday morning. Vice President Boediono is scheduled to open this event at around 6:30 a.m.," he told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

On Saturday, a stage and dozens of banners promoting the event were already prepared in the Monas compound, which is located across from the Arjuna Wijaya statue on Jl. Medan Merdeka Barat.

Visitors on Sunday will enjoy an exhibition from the ministry and a performance from local band Wali.

Kamaruddin said religious leaders from Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Confucian communities across the city would attend and Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali would lead a declaration of religious harmony.

"Conflicts with religious background still happen often in the country. That's why we need to have a joint commitment to build harmony among us," he said.

He said the declaration of religious harmony was a way of anticipating conflict.

"Pluralism and religious harmony in Jakarta, for example, is pretty good, but potential conflict can still occur because this is a multicultural city," he said.

Last year, Jakarta Governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo was praised for his decision to refuse a group's demand for the dismissal of Lenteng Agung subdistrict head Susan Jasmine Zulkifli on the basis she was a Christian.

Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi asked the governor to consider replacing Susan, but Jokowi said the selection of district and subdistrict heads was based on their performance, so he would not bow to demands that they be removed or transferred on the basis of their religion.

Religious intolerance still occurs in Greater Jakarta and provinces across the country.

Congregations from the Indonesia Christian Church (GKI) Yasmin in Bogor and the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) Filadelfia in Bekasi are among minorities who have asked for help from the government over their rights to build places of worship.

Hundreds of members from the two churches recently held Christmas services in front of the State Palace. They also hold Sunday services every two weeks to protest the government's inaction in relation to their plight.

GKI Yasmin has been sealed off by the Bogor administration since 2011 despite a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that stipulated the building permit for GKI Yasmin was legal and that ordered the administration to reopen the place of worship.

Meanwhile, HKBP Filadelfia tensions started in December 2009 when a former Bekasi regent, Sa'duddin, issued a decree sealing the site of the church and stopping the congregation from worshipping there.

In September 2010, the Bandung State Administrative Court annulled Sa'duddin's decree and ordered him to issue a permit for the church but he did not comply with the order.

In Sidoarjo, East Java, several Christian groups still face obstacles to building churches.

Minority Muslim sects also face problems. Ahmadis nationwide are still banned from practicing their faith publicly and dozens of Shiites are still unable to return to their homes in Sampang, Madura, after more than a year of being displaced in their own country.