(New York) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should uphold freedom of religion in Indonesia and repudiate statements by his religious affairs minister calling for the banning of the Ahmadiyah religion, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Indonesian president.
Since August 2010, Religious Affairs Minister Ali Suryadharma has repeatedly called for the Ahmadiyah faith to be banned in Indonesia. President Yudhoyono has failed to repudiate those statements, leading many to believe that he supports such an action. In recent years Islamist militants have repeatedly attacked and burned Ahmadiyah homes and mosques. Anti-Ahmadiyah violence has increased since Yudhoyono announced a prohibition on teachings or public displays of the Ahmadiyah religion in June 2008.
"President Yudhoyono gave a nationwide speech about religious tolerance in the United States, but what will he tell visiting US President Barack Obama about the burned Ahmadiyah mosques in Indonesia?" said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Yudhoyono should take clear steps to protect religious freedom, starting with loudly rejecting any ban on the Ahmadis, and ensuring that those responsible for attacks on Ahmadiyah homes and mosques are prosecuted."
The Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, a human rights group in Jakarta, recorded 33 cases of attacks in 2009 against the Ahmadiyah community. In late July, municipal police and hundreds of people organized by militant Islamist groups forcibly tried to close an Ahmadiyah mosque in Manis Lor village. On October 1, mobs attacked the Ahmadiyah community in Cisalada, south of Jakarta, burning their mosque and several houses; a Quran inside the mosque was accidently burned.
The Ahmadiyah identify themselves as Muslims but differ with other Muslims as to whether Muhammad was the "final" monotheist prophet. Consequently, some Muslims perceive the Ahmadiyah as heretics. 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 consistently called for the government to rescind this decree, as it violates the right to freedom of religion.
A ban against the Ahmadiyah would violate guarantees of freedom of religion in articles 28 and 29 of the Indonesian constitution. Prohibiting the Ahmadiyah from practicing their religion also violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Indonesia in February 2006, which protects the right to freedom of religion and to engage in religious practice "either individually or in community with others and in public or private." The treaty also protects the rights of minorities "to profess and practice their own religion."
"President Yudhoyono should order Minister Suryadharma to stop playing with fire with his demands to ban the Ahmadiyah," Robertson said. "Formalizing religious discrimination increases the vulnerability of Ahmadiyah and opens the door for further attacks and wider communal violence. This is hardly the recipe for promoting Indonesia as a modern, rights-respecting state."
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 from Indonesia's Council of Ulemas, a senior body of Islamic clerics, saying the Ahmadiyahs were deviating from Quranic teaching regarding the final prophet. Following the edict, 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 mobs destroyed their homes and mosques. Some Ahmadis asked for political asylum at consulates 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 religious freedom.
More than 200 people signed a petition on May 10, 2008, 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. Yet the following month, the Religious Affairs and Home Affairs ministries, and the Attorney General's Office, issued the discriminatory decree restricting the right of Ahmadis to publicly practice their faith.
The violence in Manis Lor, Kuningan regency, West Java, the largest Ahmadiyah community in Indonesia, followed an order by a local government official to close an Ahmadiyah mosque. On July 28 and 29, 2010, hundreds of protesters organized by militant Islamist groups forcibly tried to close the mosque. Minister Suryadharma responded by announcing that while the Indonesian government would not tolerate violence in religious disputes, the police would enforce the 2008 decree and warned 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. He later added in news reports that, "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."