Indonesia: Ministry Orders Removal of Buddha Statue

Indonesia's commitment to promote religious tolerance has been questioned again after the Religious Affairs Ministry ordered a large Buddhist statue in the Tri Ratna Buddhist monastery  in Tanjungbalai, North Sumatra, to be taken down after some ‘hardliners’ in the area complained against its presence.

A few months ago, leaders and members from other churches were attacked by Muslim ‘fanatics’ which led many people to observe that religious minorities are being harassed in Indonesia. Indonesia is the most populated Muslim nation in the world.

The controversial Buddha statue that must be lowered in Tanjungbalai. Source: Website of Buddhism Discussion Forum

The problem in North Sumatra started after a number of people calling themselves GIB / Gerakan Islam Bersatu (United Islamic Movement) began to consider the Buddha statue in Tri Ratna a threat to Islamic faith in the city. They argued that the statue could upstage the city's historical symbol ‘Balai di Ujung Tanduk’ located in front of it. GIB's letter demanding the removal of the statue was published in a Buddhism discussion forum website.

A discussion thread was also created to give support to the appeal of the Buddhist monks to the local government:

Mohon berikan tekanan kpd Walikota Tanjung Balai SUMUT agar mencabut Surat Keputusan ttg Penurunan Patung Budha di Vihara Tri Ratna Tanjung Balai, Sumut.

Please provide pressure to the Mayor of Tanjung Balai, North Sumatera, to revoke the decree about lowering the Buddha statue in Tri Ratna monastery.

Various efforts have been made ​​by the monastery and other sympathetic parties to prevent the statue from being removed but the Ministry, in the end, it chose to issue an order against the appeal of the monks.

Blogger EKSPRESI HATI posted the chronology of advocacy efforts undertaken by Veryanto Sitohang, Direktur Eksekutif Aliansi Sumut Bersatu (Executive Director of The Alliance of North Sumatera United). First, the Alliance complained to the Mayor, then they went to the local parliament, and then they proceeded to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, until finally they lobbied in the House of Representatives. But the group failed to get a satisfactory answer. That is why many were surprised to learn that the Ministry eventually decided that the statue should be taken down.

Here are some online reactions: THE INDONESIAN ANTI DISCRIMINATION MOVEMENT issued this statement:

“Negara tidak berhak untuk mengatur apalagi menurunkan perlengkapan apapun yang ada di tempat ibadah. Penurunan patung Buddha di Vihara sudah dapat dikategorikan kekerasan agama yang dilakukan oleh negara. Ini akan menjadi catatan pelanggaran konstitusi dan hak asasi manusia”, demikian ditegaskan oleh Wahyu Effendy, Ketua Umum Gerakan Perjuangan Anti Diskriminasi (GANDI) dalam pernyataan persnya.

“The state has no right to regulate, moreover unload existing fixtures in worship places. Removing the Buddha statue in the monastery can be categorized as a form of religious violence committed by the state. This is an infringement against the constitution and human rights”, as affirmed by Wahyu Effendy, General Chairman of Anti-Discrimination Struggle Movement.

Blogger JOEBIGJOE said:

Walaupun agama Buddha dianggap sebagai agama minoritas, tetapi apakah agama yang mayoritas harus menindas yang minoritas? Apakah hanya sebuah patung Buddha saja harus mendapatkan restu dari yang beragama mayoritas? Dan dimana rasa saling menghormati antar beragama di Negara ini?

Although Buddhism is considered as a minority religion, should the majority religion oppress the minority? Is it just for Buddhist monks to get an approval from the religious majority? Where is mutual respect among religions in this country?

Colson, a blogger of Pelopor said:

Well, it is Aceh 2011 and  not Afghanistan 2001, it is Shariah “Veranda of Mecca -style” not Taliban, the statue is just another Buddha and not a 1700 years old part of the world´s cultural heritage and  the height is merely 6 meters and not 53. But in both cases the background of  religious intolerance even aggressiveness, self-righteousness, narrow-mindedness and cultural barbarism, backed by the political establishment, are there.

Blogger LAPAK INFO notes that religious pluralism is now dead in Indonesia:


This is the destruction of religious freedom, pluralism and the collapse of  Unity in Diversity

‘Unity in Diversity’ is Indonesia's national motto.

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