Thousands in anti-Christian riot
in Indonesia
Churches, businesses, homes ransacked
January 30, 1997

JAKARTA, Indonesia (Reuter) -- Thousands of Muslims burned and wrecked 
churches, temples and homes east of Jakarta on Thursday after news spread that 
a Christian had insulted Islam, officials and witnesses said. 

"The rampage was sparked by a Chinese woman who scolded a number of youths for 
being too noisy," said Dadang Muchtar, the head of the Karawang regency, at a 
news conference. 

Dadang said the youths were beating drums to wake Muslims in the neighborhood 
early Thursday so they could eat before fasting through the day. The Muslim 
fasting month of Ramadan ends at sunset on February 8. 

The mob ransacked at least five churches, a Chinese temple, scores of 
businesses and two homes in the small town of Rengasdengklok about 30 miles 
(50 km) from the capital Jakarta. At least 16 cars were also set ablaze. 

There were no immediate reports of injuries. Four people were arrested, 
including the Chinese woman who police said sparked the unrest, Dadang said. 
He gave no other details. 


'Came with petrol'

Witnesses said the town was quiet but tense after troops and riot police moved 
in to patrol the streets. The troops set up road blocks on main streets and 
warned citizens to stay away from the restricted area. Smoke billowed into the 
sky. 

The caretaker of a Pentecostal church that burned down described what 
happened: "They came in two groups. The first group came and wrecked the 
place. The second group came with petrol and burned it." 

He said his home and the pastor's house behind the church were ransacked and 
wrecked. 

Eyewitnesses said the mob, shouting "God is Greatest," attacked the churches 
in the morning. "They smashed the windows, music instruments and also the 
Bible," said one church attendant whose church was damaged. 

A number of shops were also damaged and looted, including a jewelry store that 
was emptied after its door was smashed in. 

The owners of some homes and shops wrote "Muslim, don't touch" on walls to 
protect them. Members of the mob countered by scrawling graffiti on walls that 
said: "Muslim power," "Long live Islam," and "Destroy the Chinese." 

Ethnic Chinese, a number of whom are Christians and are regarded as more 
wealthy in their neighborhoods, are frequently targets of mob violence in 
Indonesia. 

Last month, four people died when a mob went on a rampage in the town of 
Tasikmalaya in West Java, setting fire to shops, buildings and churches. 

That riot was sparked by reports of police brutality toward a Muslim religious 
teacher. 

Return to Project Open Book