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Churches destroyed after blasphemy sentence handed down

From Kathy Quiano, CNN
Indonesians from various religions hold hands in Jakarta on January 7 to condemn religious clashes in the country.
Indonesians from various religions hold hands in Jakarta on January 7 to condemn religious clashes in the country.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Protesters wanted the Christian man to get a stiffer sentence for blasphemy against Islam
  • Security remains high at the scene, police say
  • It was the second violent incident in three days against minority religious groups

Jakarta, Indonesia (CNN) -- Three Christian churches in Indonesia were destroyed by an angry mob during clashes with police Tuesday that erupted after a local court handed down a verdict against a Christian man accused of blasphemy against Islam, authorities said.

The man was given a five-year sentence, said national police spokesman Col. Boy Rafli Amar, but the protesters wanted him to face a stiffer penalty.

The destroyed churches were in Temanggung, Central Java, Amar said. "The scene is now under police control," he said. "It's calm but security is high."

Security personnel are searching for those responsible for the attack on the churches, and authorities are "asking local religious leaders to stay calm and find diplomatic ways to solve the problem."

The attacks were the second violent incident against minority religious groups in Indonesia in the past three days. On Sunday, a mob of about 1,000 people, wielding knives and stones, attacked about 25 members of the Muslim minority sect, Ahmadiyah, in Cikeusik village in West Java's Banten province. Three people were killed and six others injured. The crowd opposed the presence of the Ahmadiyah in the village and demanded the group stop its activities.

Indonesia's minority religions targeted
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Amateur video of the incident obtained by Human Rights Watch showed people pummeling what looked like lifeless bodies with sticks and rocks. The video has been posted on the internet, fueling public outrage.

In a televised statement Monday, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the violence against Ahmadiyah and ordered a thorough investigation. Human rights activists, however, are calling for the government to revoke a ministerial decree issued in 2008 that bans the community's religious activities.

"How many Ahmadiyah have to die at the hands of mobs before the police step in?" said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The Indonesian government should end this wave of hate crimes and immediately revoke the 2008 anti-Ahmadiyah decree, which encourages these vicious attacks."

The Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, a local think tank, noted in a recent report a marked increase in the number of attacks against Ahmadiyah and other minority religions in Indonesia in recent years.

The most populous Muslim country in the world, Indonesia has previously been touted as an example of tolerance and democracy in the Islamic world. But a 2009 study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in Washington suggested it was actually among the most restrictive countries when it comes to religion.

CNN's Richard Allen Greene contributed to this report.

 
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