Government Should Protect Religious Minority, Not Threaten Prison for Beliefs
(New York) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should reverse a decree that would permit criminal prosecutions of the Ahmadiyah community for their religious beliefs, Human Rights Watch said today.
The Ahmadiyah identify themselves as Muslims but differ with other Muslims as to whether Muhammad was the “final” monotheist prophet; consequently, some other Muslims perceive the Ahmadiyah as “heretics.”
On June 9, 2008, Religious Affairs Minister Maftuh Basyuni, Home Minister Mardiyanto, and Attorney General Hendarman Supanji signed a decree ordering the Ahmadiyah community to “stop spreading interpretations and activities which deviate from the principal teachings of Islam,” including “the spreading of the belief that there is another prophet with his own teachings after Prophet Mohammed.” Violations of the decree are subject to up to five years of imprisonment.
“The Indonesian government should stand up for religious tolerance instead of prosecuting people for their religious views,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “President Yudhoyono should reverse this decision and make it clear that all Indonesians will be protected in their religious convictions and consciences.”
The decree followed the June 1, 2008 attack by more than 500 Islamist militants on around 100 men, women, and children holding a peaceful rally to support the Ahmadis at Jakarta’s National Monument. Video footage showed the attackers, who called themselves the Islam Troop Command, chasing, punching and kicking the activists and hitting them with bamboo and rattan sticks. More than 60 people were injured in the attack, some seriously. Victims included several Muslim scholars and activists who openly defended the Ahmadiyah faith. Several Ahmadiyah members were also hospitalized.
That morning more than 100,000 people had come to the National Monument to celebrate the anniversary of Pancasila, Indonesia’s unifying national ideology that future President Sukarno articulated in 1945 as a way of bridging Muslim, Christian, and other nationalist groups. Former president Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Sukarno, led the celebration. Helmy Fauzi, who helped organize the celebration, estimated that approximately 1,000 police officers were present to provide security. At 1 p.m. the Ahmadiyah supporters arrived. About 10 to 15 minutes later, they were attacked. Video footage shows that police were in the area but did little to stop the violence.
Three days later, on June 4, more than 1,500 police officers were deployed to arrest more than 50 persons at the head office of the Islamic Defenders Front in downtown Jakarta. Many of those arrested were members of the Front, a vigilante organization known for violent raids on bars and cafes, and which has publicly denounced Ahmadiyah and threatened to “personally” disband the organization. Its chairman, Rizieq Shihab, was arrested, but the man who allegedly organized the June 1 attack, Munarman, escaped.
Police have reportedly searched for Munarman at his home in Pondok Cabe, outside Jakarta, and have tried to monitor his movements since he eluded arrest. From his hideout, Munarman issued a video saying that he will not surrender if the Yudhoyono government does not ban the Ahmadiyah.
“The Indonesian government needs to show it takes attacks on religious minorities seriously by prosecuting those responsible,” said Adams. “If Munarman remains at large it will fuel suspicion of support in some government quarters for his aims. The government has a duty to protect Ahmadis and other religious minorities – that’s a bedrock principle of modern Indonesia.”
Indonesia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in February 2006. In doing so, it agreed to comply with all the provisions of that treaty, including that, “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice” (Article 18(2)), and “persons belonging to ... minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion” (Article 27).
The Ahmadiyah faith was founded in what is now Pakistan in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The Ahmadiyah community is banned in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and has come under attack in Bangladesh. There are approximately 200,000 Ahmadis in Indonesia.
The Ahmadiyah have come under increasing attack since a July 2005 edict issued by Indonesia’s Council of Ulemas, a senior body of Islamic clerics, saying they were deviating from Koranic teaching regarding the final prophet. Islamist groups attacked the Ahmadiyah headquarters near Bogor, and assaults on Ahmadiyah members were also reported in Lombok Timur, Manis Lor, Tasikmalaya, Parung, Garut, Ciaruteun, and Sadasari. Attacks on the Ahmadiyah community continued in 2006, forcing hundreds of Ahmadis to flee to a refugee camp in Lombok after local mobs destroyed their homes and mosques. Some Ahmadis asked for political asylum at the consulates of Australia and Germany in Bali.
In December 2007, mobs attacked Ahmadis, their mosques and their homes in Kuningan, West Java. On April 16, 2008, Indonesia’s Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem) recommended banning the Ahmadiyah faith. Moderate Muslim leaders, including former president Abdurrahman Wahid and civil rights activists, responded by rallying support for the Ahmadiyah and the principle of freedom of religion in Indonesia. More than 200 signed a petition on May 10, saying the government should be protecting the Ahmadiyah from attack. The signatories included many Muslim scholars, Catholic priests, Protestant preachers, Confucianists, Buddhists, Hindus, poets, writers, and human rights campaigners.
The June 1 rally was organized to protest the proposed ban. Wahid was on his way to the rally when the attack took place. Later, when visiting hospitalized victims, he said: “This is not a jungle state. The police, like it or not, must arrest those people.”