(New York) - Indonesian police should arrest those responsible for attacking an Ahmadiyah congregation in South Sulawesi province and protect vulnerable religious minorities throughout the country, Human Rights Watch said today.On January 28, 2011, police "evacuated" members of an Ahmadiyah congregation from their mosque in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi, amid increasingly threatening protests by members of a militant Islamist group, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). FPI militants then attacked the mosque, destroying property and breaking windows.
"Indonesian police may have thought they were taking the Ahmadiyah out of harm's way, but they let the mob go on a rampage," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The authorities need to send a message that hate crimes won't be tolerated by prosecuting those responsible."
The attack on the Ahmadiyah community in South Sulawesi underscored a troubling trend in Indonesia, Human Rights Watch said. Religious extremists are harassing religious minorities, particularly members of the Ahmadiyah community, and law enforcement officials are failing to hold those responsible to account. The Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, a Jakarta-based group working on religious freedom, recorded 50 cases of attacks in 2010 against the Ahmadiyah community.
In the Makassar attack, hundreds of FPI protesters first gathered on January 27 outside the mosque, where hundreds of Ahmadiyah were holding an annual prayer ceremony, the Jalzah Salanah. The mob demanded that they end the ceremony. Jamaluddin Feli, the Ahmadiyah imam in Makassar, told Human Rights Watch that the community tried to speed up the ceremony and that some members left the following morning.
When the mob returned at around 4 p.m. on January 28, members of the Ahmadiyah congregation barricaded themselves inside. At about 8 p.m., the South Sulawesi chief of police, Inspector General Johny Waenal Usman, arrived and asked the congregation members to evacuate the building for their safety. They initially refused, saying that it was their property, and held hands to prevent being removed. Police entered the mosque and pressured the Ahmadiyah to leave with them in trucks to the police station.
Feli said most of the congregation members agreed to leave and asked the police to guard the mosque from the protesters. As the main group of Ahmadiyah left, the protesters broke into the mosque and yelled at the remaining Ahmadi members to leave - some congregation members had remained in the center, hidden upstairs. By 10 p.m. all of the remaining Ahmadiyah members had left. The police provided no protection to the mosque and did not intervene when the mob smashed the windows, committed vandalism, seized financial records, and tore down religious placards.
The Indonesian authorities' pattern of ineffectiveness reflects a political, legal, and social framework that propagates a culture of religious discrimination, Human Rights Watch said. Since August, Religious Affairs Minister Ali Suryadharma has repeatedly called for the Ahmadiyah faith to be banned in Indonesia. President Susilo BambangYudhoyono 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.
In July 2010, 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.
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 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.
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. At the time of signing the decree, officials said it was necessary to help stop further violence.
"The 2008 decree has not stopped violence against the Ahmadiyah community, as officials said it would, but fueled further hatred and intolerance," Pearson said.
Prohibiting the Ahmadiyah from practicing their religion also violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Indonesia in 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."
"The Makassar violence is not an isolated incident - time and again the police are ineffective in protecting religious minorities," Pearson said. "Indonesia's reputation as a rights-respecting country will suffer unless President Yudhoyono acts to end the violence against the Ahmadiyah and lifts the ban on their religious practices."