(New York) - Indonesian authorities should end discriminatory policies against the Ahmadiyah religious community and investigate and prosecute anti-Ahmadiyah violence, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to revoke a local government order to close Ahmadiyah mosques and a repressive national decree against the Ahmadiyah community.
Since July 26, 2010, municipal police and hundreds of people organized by militant Islamist groups have made several attempts to force an Ahmadiyah mosque in Manis Lor village, Kuningan regency, West Java, to close, resulting in violence. The municipal police were acting on the orders of the regent of Kuningan to close the mosque. On July 29, the religious affairs minister, Suryadharma Ali, publicly stated that the Indonesian government would not tolerate violence in religious disputes, but he also warned that the Ahmadiyah followers "had better stop their activities" and said the police would enforce a 2008 decree barring them from spreading their faith.
"Indonesian officials have again reacted to official discrimination and vigilante violence against the Ahmadiyah by restricting their right to practice their religion," said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The government should show that it is serious about ending religious violence by holding those responsible to account."
About two-thirds of Manis Lor's approximately 4,500 residents are Ahmadiyah, making it the largest Ahmadiyah community in Indonesia. Ahmadiyah identify themselves as Muslims but differ with other Muslims about whether Muhammad was the "final" monotheist prophet; consequently, some Muslims perceive the Ahmadiyah as "heretics."
A June 2008 national decree requires the Ahmadiyah community to "stop spreading interpretations and activities that deviate from the principal teachings of Islam," including "spreading the belief that there is another prophet with his own teachings after Prophet Mohammed." Violations of the decree can result in prison sentences of up to five years. Human Rights Watch has long called for the government to rescind this decree as it violates freedom of religion, recognized in various human rights treaties that Indonesia has ratified.
Aang Hamid Suganda, the regent of Kuningan, reportedly ordered the closure of eight Ahmadiyah mosques following a recommendation in June by the Indonesian Ulama Council, the country's top Muslim clerical body. Suganda claimed that the Ahmadiyah's religious activities had provoked conflict and that the closures were necessary to prevent the conflict from escalating.
On July 26, the municipal police - Satuan Polisi Pamong Praja, or Satpol-PP - acting on an executive order issued by Suganda, tried to close the An Nur mosque, where some of Manis Lor's Ahmadiyah conduct religious services. The police withdrew after hundreds of Manis Lor residents blocked the street leading to the mosque.
On July 28, police and local government security officers again tried to seal the mosque. Ahmadiyah residents resisted by throwing rocks and sticks. Later, hundreds of protesters organized by militant Islamist organizations, including the Movement against Illegal Sects and Non-Believers (GAPAS), the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), the Indonesia Mujahidin Council (MMI), and the Islamic Community Forum (FUI) attempted to forcibly close the mosque. Police blocked the mob from reaching the mosque.
The next day, at least 300 protesters again tried to close down the mosque. About 600 officers, including Mobile Brigade police (Brimob) and public order officials, tried to block their advance, using tear gas, but were unsuccessful. Protesters briefly clashed with approximately 200 Ahmadiyah members. Minor injuries and some property damage were reported. Suganda then issued an ultimatum to the Ahmadiyah community, saying that he would order the municipal police to close the mosque if religious activities there did not cease two days before the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which starts on August 11.
West Java police reportedly deployed around 500 reinforcement officers from the anti-riot and Brimob units to the area in response to the violence. On July 30, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Djoko Suyanto, called on the police to be "stern" in dealing with "anarchic action," and reported that President Yudhoyono had asked him to make sure that the police are "strict" in doing so. To date however, the police have not arrested anyone in connection with the violence and intimidation.
"When the Indonesian authorities sacrifice the rights of religious minorities to appease hard-line Islamist groups this simply causes more violence, as in Manis Lor," Pearson said. "While the police rightly stopped mobs from entering the mosque, their failure to arrest a single person will only embolden these groups to use violence again."
Suganda, the Kuningan regent, has said that he and other community religious leaders will travel to Jakarta in August to press senior government officials to do more to carry out the June 2008 national decree.
Indonesia's 1945 constitution explicitly guarantees freedom of religion in article 28(E). Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2006, states are to respect the right to freedom of religion. This includes freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching." Members of religious minorities "shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of their group ... to profess and practice their own religion." Restrictions on the right to freedom of religion to protect public safety or order must be strictly necessary and proportional to the purpose being sought.
"Indonesia is obliged to prosecute those responsible for anti-Ahmadiyah violence and to repeal discriminatory laws and decrees, which militants rely on to justify their actions," Pearson said. "These laws actively undermine religious freedom in Indonesia and jeopardize the safety of members of religious minorities."