Skip to main content

Indonesia: Revoke Provincial Decrees to Ban a Faith

Religious Affairs Minister Should be Removed for Promoting Discrimination

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia should void decrees recently adopted by two provinces that ban activities by the Ahmadiyah religious community, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch repeated its call for the president to revoke the national anti-Ahmadiyah 2008 decree, which bars public propagation of the Ahmadiyah faith.

On February 28, 2011, the provincial government in East Java, which has a population of 37 million, banned the activities of the Ahmadiyah community, outlawing the display of their mosque and school signs and the use of "electronic media" to extend their teachings. On March 3, the government in West Java, Indonesia's most populous province, with 43 million people, also banned the Ahmadiyahs' activities. Both provincial governments based their laws on the June 2008 national decree by the Yudhoyono administration, violations of which can result in prison sentences of up to five years. Jemaah Ahmadiyah Indonesia, the religious group's leadership, reports that 16 provinces and regencies in Indonesia have issued anti-Ahmadiyah decrees since 2006.

"Indonesian national and provincial authorities risk being complicit in anti-Ahmadiyah violence by stripping this religious community of their basic rights," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "These decrees place officials on the side of militants who increasingly have been carrying out attacks on the Ahmadiyah."

The Ahmadiyah movement was 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. As a result, some other Muslims perceive the Ahmadiyah as heretics. Approximately 300,000 Indonesians follow the faith.

On February 6, a mob of 1,500 people attacked 21 Ahmadiyah members in Cikeusik, a village in the Banten province in western Java, killing three people and seriously wounding five others. About 30 police officers were present but did little to stop the attack. A videographer recorded the brutality, and the video was later posted by various individuals and organizations on YouTube.  Widespread national and international condemnation of the attack ultimately prompted the Indonesian police to investigate the attack and arrest 12 suspects.

Additional attacks on Ahmadiyah communities soon followed. On March 11, villagers attacked four Ahmadiyah houses in Ciareuteun village, in Bogor. The police took no action against the assailants but arrested and questioned seven Ahmadiyah members and forced them to sign a document to renounce their faith. On March 13, in the nearby Bogor village of Cimanggu, assailants attacked four Ahmadiyah houses, causing the residents to flee. Local police later assigned guards around the Ahmadiyah properties in Cimanggu.

Since the February 6 attack, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali has repeatedly urged the cabinet to issue a total ban on the Ahmadiyah, claiming justification in a 2005 fatwa issued by the Indonesian Ulemas' Council and the 2008 national anti-Ahmadiya decree. Ali has also recommended that the government declare the Ahmadiyah faith a new religion that is not permitted to make use of Islamic symbols such as the Quran, its rituals, and the Prophet Mohammed. He also has frequently urged Indonesia to follow the "Pakistan road," to ban and criminalize Ahmadiyah activities.

"Repeated calls by Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali to ban the Ahmadiyah fan the flames of violence against the group," Robertson said. "President Yudhoyono should signal that such discrimination has no place in a society that promotes religious tolerance and remove Suryadharma Ali from his post."

At least one senior Indonesian military officer has similarly called for restrictions on the rights of Ahmadiyah. On March 9 the West Java military commander, Major General Moeldoko, openly asked his soldiers in Bandung to support  banning  the Ahmadiyah and urged Muslims "to invade" and "to occupy" Ahmadiyah mosques. Soldiers under his command and police officers went to an Ahmadiyah mosque in Bandung during Friday prayers on March 11 and demanded that the Ahmadiyah imam, Ahmad Sulaeman, be replaced by Asep Zaenal Ausof of the Indonesian Ulemas' Council's Bandung branch.

"Indonesia's top army commander, General George Toisuta, should order all officers to respect the rights of all religious communities and take immediate action against those harassing the Ahmadiyah or other faiths," Robertson said.

Indonesian law facilitates discrimination against the Ahmadiyah. The June 2008 decree, the "Joint Ministerial Decree on Warning and Ordering the Jemaah Ahmadiyah Indonesia and Others," 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." 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 the decree was signed, officials said it was necessary to help stop further violence.

Since the national anti-Ahmadiyah decree was issued, violence against the Ahmadiyah community has increased dramatically. The Setara Institute, a respected nongovernmental organization that monitors religious freedom in Indonesia, recorded a rise from three attacks in 2006 to 50 in 2010.

Prohibiting the Ahmadiyah from practicing their religion is in violation of Indonesia's obligations under 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." It provides that the protections in the treaty shall extend throughout a state "without any limitations or exceptions," thus obliging provincial and other local governments to abide by its provisions.

Human Rights Watch urged concerned countries to call on the Indonesian government to protect the rights of religious minorities in the country. Specifically, foreign embassies in Jakarta should raise their concerns and seek reforms not only in contacts with national officials, such as Yudhoyono and Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi, but with provincial leaders, including the West Java governor, Ahmad Heryawan, and the East Java governor, Soekarwo.

"Provincial officials are no less responsible than their counterparts in Jakarta for ensuring that the rights of their populations are fully protected" Robertson said.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country