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Indonesian Muslims Protest Against China's Crackdown on Uighur

China's perceived mistreatment of its Uighur Muslim minority has sparked few protests among Muslim communities around the world. In Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population, there have been almost daily demonstrations in front of the Chinese Embassy. But the protesters have been relatively few in number and seem unable to generate public outrage against China.

About 100 Muslim students from the University of Indonesia are protesting in front of the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta. Their spokesman, Ahmad Setiabudi, says they are here to protest the discrimination and violence against Uighur Muslims in China.

He says they urge not only China to act, but also the Indonesian government to firmly say it is against the violence in China.

News reports of China's crackdown after ethnic unrest hit Xinjiang region have prompted Muslim organizations in Indonesia to denounce what they say is religious repression in China.

The Muslim Uighurs speak a Turkic language and share many characteristics with people from Central Asia. They complain they face discrimination from the Han, China's dominant ethnic group, and that the government restricts their religious practices, as well as travel. Beijing rejects those allegations.

The Indonesian Council of Ulemas has criticized China for forbidding Uighur Muslims from performing their Friday prayers at the mosques after the violence.

But Professor Azyumardi Azra with the State Islamic University Syarif Hidayatullah says outrage against China is not gaining popular support in Indonesia.

"Indonesians in general do not have some kind of anti-China feelings," Azra said.
He says while there is some animosity toward Chinese Indonesians, China is seen as a positive influence and vital economic partner.

And he says the repression of Muslims in China does not fit with the world view of many Muslim activists, who have focused for so long on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I think that is because of the long standing conflict in the Middle East and of course with the suspicion in general, not only Indonesia but all over the world, of the you know so-called U.S. conspiracy to destroy Muslims and things like that," Azra said.

Azra says while Indonesia should be consistent in defending the rights of Muslims all over the world, the sporadic protests will have little effect on either the Indonesian or Chinese governments.