(New York) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia should publicly repudiate statements by his religious affairs minister that the Ahmadiyah religious community should be banned, Human Rights Watch said today. For three days beginning August 30, 2010, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali advocated banning the Ahmadiyah before committees of the Indonesian House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat).
"Minister Suryadharma's statements about banning the Ahmadiyah community are reprehensible, and President Yudhoyono should publicly say so," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Yudhoyono needs to make it clear to the Indonesian public that the statements do not reflect official policy."
Ahmadiyah identify themselves as Muslims but differ with other Muslims about whether Muhammad was the "final" monotheist prophet. Consequently, some Muslims consider the Ahmadiyah heretics.
In his public statements, Suryadharma was quoted in news reports as having said: "To ban [the Ahmadiyah] is far better than to let them be. ... To outlaw them would mean that we are working hard to stop deviant acts from continuing."
Suryadharma also reportedly said that the government would disband the Ahmadiyah after the Eid-Ul-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Indonesians are celebrating the holiday on September 10.
Suryadharma's remarks have met with resistance from Indonesian human rights activists and the senior leadership of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's largest Islamic organization. On September 3, NU released a statement on its website advocating peaceful dialogue with the Ahmadiyah, saying that even though NU disagrees with the Ahmadiyah community's religious beliefs, disbanding the group was not in line with the Quran's teaching.
Suryadharma's remarks follow a recent outburst of anti-Ahmadiyah violence in the village of Manis Lor, Kuningan regency, West Java, the largest Ahmadiyah community in Indonesia. On July 28 and 29, hundreds of protesters organized by militant Islamist organizations forcibly tried to close an Ahmadiyah mosque after a local government official had ordered it closed.
On July 29, Suryadharma responded by announcing that while the Indonesian government would not tolerate violence in religious disputes, the police would enforce a 2008 decree barring Ahmadiyah followers from spreading their faith and warning that the Ahmadiyah "had better stop their activities."
On August 31, Suryadharma again blamed the Ahmadiyah instead of their attackers for the recent instances of anti-Ahmadiyah violence, saying that he believed that the incidents were consequences of the failure of the Ahmadiyah to adhere to the decree.
Current Indonesian law facilitates discrimination against the Ahmadiyah. The June 2008 decree requires the Ahmadiyah 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 Muhammad." 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 the right to freedom of religion.
"Ongoing incidents of anti-Ahmadiyah violence like that in Manis Lor demonstrate that the 2008 decree has encouraged violence rather than contained it," Robertson said. "The government should revoke the 2008 anti-Ahmadiyah decree and prosecute all those responsible for attacks on religious minorities."
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 one's choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest one's 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," the covenant says.
Human Rights Watch has extensively documented attacks on the rights of religious minority groups worldwide, including against Ahmadiyah communities in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Human Rights Watch has also criticized expressions of religious intolerance against Muslims by government officials in Europe and the United States.