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(New York) - The Indonesian government should reject proposals to ban the minority Ahmadiyah faith and not align itself with the extremists who have fomented violence against them, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Religious Affairs Ministry, the Home Ministry and the Attorney-General’s Office are drafting a decree to ban the Ahmadiyah after a government monitoring board declared the faith “heretical.”

“Indonesia has often been acknowledged for its religious tolerance,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Banning a religious minority not only violates the Indonesian Constitution and the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion, but will tarnish Indonesia’s world image as a moderate Muslim-majority.”

On April 16, 2008, Indonesia’s Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem) recommended banning the Ahmadiyah faith. Such a ban would violate the internationally recognized right to religious freedom and Indonesia’s own constitution. Human Rights Watch called on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to reject the decree and guarantee the rights of all religious minorities to practice their faith freely.

Founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, 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.” Approximately 200,000 Indonesians follow the faith.

The Ahmadiyah faith has come under increasing attacks by vigilante groups following a July 2005 edict issued against them by Indonesia’s Council of Ulemas, a senior body of Islamic clerics. By November 2005, at least two local city authorities in Java had banned all Ahmadiyah religious activity in their districts.

Immediately following the July 2005 Council of Ulema edict, groups attacked the Ahmadiyah headquarters near Bogor, and assaults on Ahmadiyah members were also reported in Lombok Timur, Manislor, Tasikmalaya, Parung, Garut, Ciaruteun, and Sadasari. Attacks on the Ahmadiyah community continued in 2006, forcing 187 Ahmadis to flee to a refugee camp in Lombok after local mobs destroyed their homes and mosques. In December 2007, mobs attacked Ahmadiyah followers, their mosques, and their homes, in Kuningan, West Java. On April 20, 2008, demonstrators from hard-line groups including the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) denounced Ahmadiyah and threatened to “personally” disband the organization.

Police have regularly failed to respond to the attacks, and at the time of writing no charges had been brought against any perpetrators of this violence. On April 18, following the recommendations of the monitoring board, the Jakarta Post reported that the national police headquarters have ordered police chiefs across the country to ensure the safety of Ahmadis and their places of worship.

Human Rights Watch is concerned that the Indonesian authorities have not charged or prosecuted perpetrators of these attacks on the Ahmadiyah community, and that the moves to ban the faith will lead to more violence against its members.

“The police’s claims to protect their safety may ring hollow for the Ahmadis when so far the Indonesian authorities have failed to prosecute any of those who have engaged in anti-Ahmadi violence,” said Pearson, “Banning Ahmadiyah will only serve to further embolden extremists to continue to persecute members of the minority faith.”

In response to pressure from groups such as the Indonesian Council of Ulemas and Indonesian Muslim Forum, on January 15, the government tasked the Bakor Pakem with supervising Ahmadiyah activities and to report within a three-month period on whether their religion was “deviant” from Islam.

Indonesia acceded to 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).

“Where there are disagreements over religious interpretation, the government should ensure that all groups are able to practice their faith in peace and without intimidation, said Pearson. “It is not the role of Governments to criminalize minority religious faiths.”

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