A GIANT statue of a Chinese deity has been covered up by a white sheet in Indonesia earlier this week amid rising concerns of Islamist fundamentalism and anti-Chinese sentiment in the world’s most populous Muslim country.
The statue of the ancient Chinese god depicting third-century General Guan Yu courted controversy after it was erected in the city of Tuban, East Java, drawing protests by Muslim locals who want it to be demolished due to religious sensitivities.
According to the ABC, while the Kwan Sing Bio Chinese temple had existed without issue for generations, the conservative Muslims could not bear the sight of the brightly-coloured 30m-high statue, which is the highest in Southeast Asia.
Responding to the protests, local authorities used a crane to cover the statue – worth US$200,000 – with a large sheet.
Hardline Muslim groups in the region are pushing for the statue to be demolished, claiming it did not reflect Indonesia’s nationalist values and its official religion.
Tuban deputy police chief Fadly Samad was quoted as saying the authorities covered the statue to maintain security and order.
“I coordinated with the temple to calm the situation down, not because of pressures from any group but to maintain security,” he said.
The controversy comes as concerns grow over discrimination against Indonesia’s Chinese minority, partly driven by the blasphemy conviction against former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of ethnic Chinese Indonesian descent.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals strongly rejected the call for the statue’s demolition.
Tempo quoted ICMI chairman Jimly Asshiddiqie as saying members of the public did not have the right to tear down an object just because they disagreed with its existence.
“It is wrong to tear down the statue. That would not be allowed as long as it abides by existing legal permits,” Jimly said.
Authorities have yet to announce whether the statue would be demolished.