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Embassy Row: Paid to play?

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Indonesian ambassador is denying claims that he paid demonstrators to show support for Indonesia's president when he received an award for religious tolerance in New York.

Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal dismissed Indonesia media reports that said Indonesian diplomats and employees of Indonesia's central bank offices in Manhattan got $100 apiece to cheer President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as he entered the Pierre Hotel for an awards banquet hosted by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.

"The news is totally wrong. Ask the Indonesian people who attended the gala dinner," Mr. Djalal said this week in a statement issued by the Indonesian Embassy in Washington.

The ambassador accused an organizer of demonstrations against the president of paying protesters.

"Our people reported from trusted sources that there is an Indonesian calling up the diaspora in the U.S. and asking them to join demonstrations against [Mr. Yudhoyono] in New York with $100 as payment," he said, referring to the Indonesian immigrant community.

The New York-based interfaith group presented Mr. Yudhoyono with its World Statesman Award on May 29 to recognize his efforts to help "Indonesia evolve into a democratic society" and oppose "extremism."

Critics have complained of widespread persecution of religious minorities in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian island nation.

The Rev. Palti Panjaitan of Indonesia's Batak Christian Protestant Church told foundation President Rabbi Arthur Schneier that awarding Mr. Yudhoyono "unfortunately sends a wrong message to the world and, more importantly, to the Indonesian people."

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Yudhoyono acknowledged the complaints of religious minorities and charges that his government fails to provide adequate protection against religious extremists.

"But our democracy is still a work in progress, and our nationhood is constantly tested," he said. "Maintaining peace, order and harmony is something that can never be taken for granted."

He noted that "pockets of intolerance persist" and that "communal conflicts occasionally flare up," and he pledged to fight religious bigotry.

"As we move forward, we will not tolerate any act of senseless violence committed by any group in the name of religion," Mr. Yudhoyono said.

The State Department's latest report on religious freedom criticized Indonesia for failing to protect religious minorities. It criticized government officials and police for allowing "coerced conversion" of dozens of minority Shiite Muslims to the majority Sunni sect.

"The constitution provides for religious freedom, but some laws and regulations restrict it," the report said.

Of Indonesia's 237 million citizens, about 207 million are Sunni Muslims, 30 million are Shiite Muslims and 2.4 million are Christian.

'CHILLING EFFECT'

U.S. nonprofit groups denounced an Egyptian court for convicting 43 workers, including 16 Americans, of using foreign money to promote civil unrest and sentencing them up to five years in prison.

"Today's ruling will have a chilling effect on Egyptian civil society and raises serious questions about Egypt's commitment to the democratic transition," the International Republican Institute said Tuesday.

The National Democratic Institute said it is "shocked and deeply distressed by the unjust conviction" of its employees.

Only one American remained in Egypt for the trial; the others left after Egypt began persecuting foreign groups last year.

Embassy Row is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. James Morrison can be reached at jmorrison@washingtontimes.com or @EmbassyRow.

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