On November 27, Islamist militants attacked the Christian-majority village of Lembantongoa in Sulawesi, Indonesia, killing the village elder and three other Christian farmers. The attackers burned a Salvation Army church and six houses, prompting about 750 villagers to flee their homes. This horrific attack is the latest example of increased threats faced by religious minorities in Indonesia.
Survivors told police that the leader of the East Indonesia Mujahideen, Ali Kalora, and about 10 others arrived in the village and accused the elder, Yasa, of informing the police about the group’s whereabouts. Kalora reportedly killed the elder with a knife in front of his family before attacking his son-in-law and two other relatives who tried to intervene.
President Joko Widodo condemned the murders as “beyond the limits of humanity,” ordering the police and the military to find those responsible. This is important, but the problem runs much deeper than one attack.
An affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS), the East Indonesia Mujahideen has previously attacked those they claim to be “non-Muslims” and “Muslims who worship other than Allah.” Since 2012, the group has killed at least 20 people. The victims have been Muslim, Christian, and Hindu farmers the group has accused of helping police.
National police chief Idham Azis told parliament last year that authorities have difficulty arresting members of the group because they have “the support of the local population. The people are sympathetic to the Ali Kalora group.” In 2016, police killed Kalora’s predecessor, Santoso, in a gun battle. Thousands of mourners attended his burial as a “martyr.”
Attacks on religious minorities in Indonesia have been a largely overlooked crisis for the past decade. Human rights monitors each year record hundreds of increasingly violent attacks by militants. There is no easy answer, but the problem will only get worse so long as the government lacks a coherent strategy that includes education, awareness raising, countering hate speech including by officials, disrupting illicit weapons sales, and ensuring that police actions are rights-respecting. Foreign governments should publicly support administration efforts to ensure Indonesia’s religious minorities are protected.