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Calls to Remove Statue of a Chinese God from Indonesian City

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Community organizations on the Indonesian island of Java are demanding that a statue of a Chinese god be destroyed.

Protesters from the organizations demonstrated in the city of Surabaya on Monday. They gathered in front of the East Java Provincial Legislative Building to demand the demolition of the warrior god statue. They claim it does not represent Indonesian culture.

The brightly colored, 30-meter-tall statue stands on the grounds of the Kwan Seng Bio temple in Tuban, East Java. The statue is now covered in cloth.

Chinese Indonesians are a minority in the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Local Chinese Indonesians say the protesters do not understand that the Confucian god directs people to oppose war. One local official told VOA the only problem with the statue is that it lacks a building permit.

Religious divides raise tension

The protest over the statue of the Chinese god comes at a time of religious tension in Indonesia.

Jakarta Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama, center, talks to his lawyers after his sentencing hearing at a court in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, May 9, 2017.
Jakarta Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama, center, talks to his lawyers after his sentencing hearing at a court in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

In Jakarta, Islamist protests against the city’s Chinese Christian governor, Basuki 'Ahok' Purnama, turned violent during his recent re-election campaign. He is now serving a two-year jail sentence after a court found him guilty of blasphemy charges.

Purnama failed to win re-election in the April voting. He lost to Anies Baswedan, whose campaign was backed by supporters of political Islam.

In July, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo banned the group Hizbut Tahrir, which supports creation of an Islamic caliphate. And while the country is an officially secular – not supporting any one religion -- public support for Islamic sharia law has been on the rise.

Didik Muadi helped to organize the Tuban protest. He told local media that many consider the huge Confucian statue an insult to Indonesia.

The statue has been part of the local landscape since July. At the time, the chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly said he hoped Indonesians and foreigners would come to see the statue.

Statue's height seen as a threat

The 30-meter statue at the Kwan Seng Bio temple in Tuban, East Java.
The 30-meter statue at the Kwan Seng Bio temple in Tuban, East Java.

His comments did not please Didik Maudi, however.

He said, “If they want to make a memorial statue, it should not be that high...Maybe it should be at most two meters high, and inside the temple, if it is a memorial. This statue is so tall, it’s as if the god of war has taken over Tuban, and we can’t permit that!”

Gatot Santosom heads the Regional Association of Chinese-Indonesians in East Java. He said the protest was based on a lack of understanding of the statue.

He said, “They misunderstood and thought the statue is of a general, that we are showing respect to a war general, but that’s not true...What we respect is what he symbolizes - loyalty, our loyalty to humanity - and he defends justice.”

Where's the building permit?

Abu Cholifah is a member of the Tuban Regency Legislative Body. He is blaming outsiders for the debate about the statue. He said they wanted to turn a statue of a Chinese god into a political issue in a nation with a long history of oppressing the Chinese community.

If there is any issue with the warrior god statue, he added, it is that the local government failed to issue a building permit before it was put up.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Petrus Riski reported this story for VOANews.com. George Grow adapted his report for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

Words in This Story

temple n. a building for religious services or uses

blasphemy n. the act of showing disrespect for God or something considered holy

caliphate – n. the rule of a chief Muslim leader

landscape n. all the recognizable mountains, rivers and other things on a piece of land or in the countryside

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