Indonesia is the largest predominantly Muslim country in the world and it has a long track record of brutal suppression of non-Muslim beliefs. But they have a new leader now and he is promising to protect the rights of religious minorities, including atheists.
After years of abuse, violence, and marginalisation by the Sunni majority under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s new government has decided to protect the religious freedom of all Indonesian citizens.
The newly elected head of state, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, and his government, especially the Interior and the Religious Affairs ministers, want to protect the freedom of all minority groups – Shias, Ahmadis, Protestants, Catholics and atheists – in the world’s most populous Muslim country.
As they fend off attacks from Muslim fundamentalists, President Jokowi and his team already embody a new message of hope in Indonesia after less than a month on the job.
Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim has taken the first step towards genuine religious freedom. Last week, he announced a series of reforms that would remove barriers to the free practice of religion for non-Muslim communities.
A new law, meant to protect minority groups from extremist attacks and provocations, should be ready “within six months” and ensure that all citizens have the same “rights in matters of religion enshrined in the Constitution of 1945.”
If this actually happens, it will be very good news. Of course, atheists there will still have to fear attack by angry mobs of Muslims.