CWN.org - JAKARTA, Indonesia - Thousands of Indonesia's Muslims took to the streets in protest this week, expressing outrage over the government's refusal to outlaw a moderate Islamic sect.
The protesters are part of an extremist group that attacks Christians and moderate Muslims. Their actions threaten to destroy religious liberty in Indodnesia.
The radical Muslims demonstrate outside Indonesia's presidential palace. Why? Because the government failed to ban a moderate sect of Islam called Ahmadiyah.
The government recently ordered the sect to stop its activities or face up to five years in prison. But that was not enough for these Islamic fundamentalists.
They're called the Islamic Defenders Front - or FPI - and they believe that any religious belief that does not conform to their view of Islam should be outlawed.
Dr. Syafii Anwar, executive director of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism, condemned their actions.
"I don't agree with Ahmadiyah, but our Constitution states that there can be freedom of religious beliefs," he said. "Nobody has the right to persecute and FPI's behavior is against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
The group is even more violent against Christians. In recent years the FPI has closed down and even set fire to Christian churches.
They've also attacked Christians with stones and have caused them to be imprisoned,
Sunday School teachers Etty, Ratna and Rebekka were put in jail for two years after they were falsely accused of converting Muslim children to Christianity.
The FPI became even more controversial after its members burned and destroyed mosques of the Ahmadiyah sect because their beliefs differ from mainstream Islamic teaching.
The group even attacked a peaceful rally promoting religious tolerance in the country.
Senny Manafe is public relations officer of the Arastamar Bible School. The FPI attacked the school several times last year. He says the group is bad not only for Christians, but is hurting the whole country.
"What FPI is doing is against the law therefore it is going against the government," he said. "Our government should stop the FPI from doing jihad. The businessmen leave the country because there is no peace and unity."
But for now, the Indonesian government appears to be bowing to the wishes of this radical group.
"I believe the President is pressured because of the coming elections," Dr. Anwar said. "Those in government are supported by Islamic parties. FPI is capitalizing on political issues threatening them that they will not vote for them if Ahmadiyah is not banned."
Even though the government has called on the FPI to stop its attacks against other religious groups, it remains to be seen if the authorities will take real action against Islamic extremists to protect religious freedom in Indonesia.
Indonesia's constitution guarantees religious freedom for five faiths: Islam, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
However, Indonesia has more Muslims than any other nation in the world. More than 90 percent of its 240 million people practice Islam.
*Original broadcast June 13, 2008.