Desecration of Christian graves by Indonesian schoolchildren raises fears of radicalisation

5 July 2021

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A group of Muslim schoolchildren aged between five and twelve has been accused of desecrating graves at a Christian cemetery in Surakarta, central Java province, Indonesia.

The vandalism, carried out by an estimated ten to twelve children, included breaking crosses off twelve Christian graves.

Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the mayor of Surakarta and son of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, has called for the children’s Islamic school to be closed down due to fears of radicalisation.

Surakarta mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka (centre, wearing baseball cap) inspects the damage done to Christian gravestones and monuments [Image credit:]

Raka, who visited the cemetery after the attack, said, “We will close the school and dismiss its teachers because they are teaching intolerance to their students.”

The mayor, who added that the school does not have a permit from local government and is therefore operating unlawfully, also urged police to take action against both pupils and teachers, saying, “Their actions were a gross act of intolerance.”

The school’s head teacher denied that teachers were responsible for promoting intolerance or doing anything to encourage the vandalism.

Court overturns government ban on school’s Islamic dress mandate

Meanwhile, Christians have condemned an Indonesian Supreme Court ruling which upheld a state-run school’s policy that all female students must wear a hijab regardless of their religion.

A decree signed by three government ministers had initially overturned the policy at the high school in Padang, West Sumatra province, arguing that schools must not force pupils or teachers to wear religious clothing.

The court, however, ruled on 7 May that the ministerial decree was unlawful.

Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas responded that the decree was necessary to counteract religious intolerance in schools, adding that he would consult with colleagues about what steps to take next.

The Republic of Indonesia has no official religion, but is the world’s largest Muslim-majority state. The country has seen a rise in hard-line Islamic ideology in recent years. A generation ago, Muslims and Christians lived peaceably as equals in accordance with the state-promoted philosophy of Pancasila.

Church leaders, however, have praised the more moderate policies of President Joko Widodo, who in January 2021 appointed a Christian, Listyo Sigit Prabowo, as National Police Chief of Indonesia.

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