Jehovah's Witnesses driven out of school in Batam for lack of patriotism

Two students refused to salute the national flag and sing the anthem, acts their faith deems idolatrous. For the local education agency, this “is against our obligation as Indonesians.” Meanwhile, police are investigating whether the fact “was part of a treason attempt or of not recognising the state”.


Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Batam Education Agency has expelled two students from a state junior high school for not showing love of country.

By refusing to salute the national flag, sing the anthem, or attend religious classes, the two were following their religious beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The school’s committee chief, Dadang, told local media that the two senior students had abstained from the activities in question since they started school.

“We had organised a series of meetings to discuss this issue,” he said, “but their parents keep defending their actions by saying they did it because of their beliefs. However, they want their kids to keep studying at this school.”

The first meeting occurred on 20 November, the last on 25, the school official said. The Batam Education Agency, the Religious Affairs Ministry, the Batam Education Council, local Police, the Indonesian military and the Batam Child Protection Commission (KPPAD) sent representatives.

The Education Agency chief Hendri Arulan said that everyone agreed to expel the students “because of our concerns regarding their Indonesian nationalism.” In his view, “The refusal to salute the national flag or sing the national anthem is against our obligation as Indonesians.”

A KPPAD commissioner, Erry Syahrial, said the expelled students had the option of finishing their studies through the Kejar Paket B equivalence test to get their secondary education certificates.

Their failure to respect “the national flag and sing the national anthem won’t spread to other children,” he said, adding that the “children are the victims of their parents’ teaching”. 

Some 200 children now in school in Batam are Jehovah’s Witnesses, but there are no reports, Syahrial explained, about other students acting like the expelled students.

For Chablullah Wibisono, chairman of the Riau Island Interfaith Communication Forum, there each religion has aspects with the potential to pit believers against national values. 

“We will discuss this issue with the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) so we can come up with a solution by which we can practice our religion and respect the country at the same time,” Chablullah explained. 

Meanwhile, the local police will continue to investigate the case. “Since this happened because of the religious dogmas,” said a police spokesperson, “we have to examine this further so we can determine if it was part of a treason attempt or of not recognising the state”.

Indonesia is home to more than 28,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses divided in 492 communities. According to their faith, bowing before a flag or saluting it and the national anthem are a form of idolatry, a religious act that gives the State, not God, the power of salvation.

Just by standing people are taking part in the ceremony. Hence, Jehovah’ Witnesses who wish to be respectful observers simply sit in silence.


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