Indonesian Minister Draws Twitter Anger for Disaster Remarks

A government minister drew sharp criticism from earthquake victims Saturday and alienated some of his Twitter followers by blaming natural disasters in Indonesia on immorality. Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring linked disasters to declining public morals when he addressed a prayer meeting in the city of Padang to mark Idhul Adha on Friday. "Television broadcasts that destroy morals are plentiful in this country and therefore disasters will continue to occur," Antara quoted Sembiring as saying. He also referred to Indonesian-made hard-core sex DVDs available in street markets as an example of growing public decadence and called for tougher laws against pornography. Indonesia straddles a series of fault lines that make the nation prone to volcanic and seismic activity. A giant quake off the country on Dec. 26, 2004, triggered the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people, half of them in Aceh. A magnitude 7.6 temblor on Sept. 30 killed more than 1,000 on western Sumatra. News of what Sembiring, a former leader of the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party, said provoked criticism Saturday from disaster victims. Kikie Marzuki, a Muslim Aceh resident who lost 10 relatives in the tsunami, said victims were not to blame. "I prefer to believe that natural disasters occur because of the destructive force of nature that cannot be avoided by humans," he said. Sembiring's remarks also brought swift rebuke from some of his followers on the social interaction network Twitter. One tweeter, who identified himself as Ari Margiono, told Sembiring his words inferred that residents of Aceh and Padang were more decadent than other Indonesians. "Disasters provide a momentum for repentance," he told the Jakarta Globe earlier. Not everyone disagreed with him, and his speech in Padang won the backing of the Indonesian Ullema Council. "Based on the religious view, a disaster could be seen as a punishment for people's sins, and could also as a reminder to us of our mistakes," prominent council member Ma'ruf Amin said.

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