(New York) - Indonesia's Judiciary Commission should monitor the trials of those charged in the deadly February 2011 attacks on the Ahmadiyah community in western Java, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the Judiciary Commission released today. Having Commission representatives monitor the trials would acknowledge the importance of the case for the rights of religious minorities in Indonesia as well as concerns about the conduct of the proceedings, Human Rights Watch said.
"Indonesia has often failed to successfully prosecute crimes targeting religious minorities, exacerbating a culture of violent persecution," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The Judiciary Commission should monitor these trials to strengthen justice in response to anti-Ahmadiyah attacks."
On February 6, a mob of 1,500 people attacked 20 members of the Ahmadiyah community in Cikeusik district, Banten province. Three Ahmadis were killed and five were seriously wounded in the attack, captured on film by an amateur videographer.
Trials for 12 defendants accused of the attack began on April 26. Police have so far acted professionally to maintain security in the courtroom, given the large numbers of protesters gathering at times outside the court. The defendants are charged with various crimes, including assault causing death, incitement, maltreatment of others (less serious assault), participating in assault, and illegal possession of sharp weapons. Assault resulting in death brings a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison. None were charged with murder or manslaughter.
Human Rights Watch also called on the police to conduct full investigations into all those involved in the attack. Courtroom testimony from witnesses on June 9 suggest that the Umbulan village head Johar (who uses only one name) and the secretary of the local Islamic Ulema Council, Ahmad Baghawi, played a role in determining February 6 as the date to forcibly remove the Ahmadiyah from Cikeusik.
"It is deeply troubling that police investigations into the brutal beating deaths of three people for their religious beliefs did not uncover who was behind the attacks," Pearson said. "For justice to be complete, investigations should not stop at the 12 defendants, but include all those playing a role in this horrific attack."
Violence against the Ahmadiyah community and other religious minorities is common in Indonesia, yet the Indonesian government has failed to seriously address the problem, Human Rights Watch said. Despite the high-profile nature of the case, the conduct of the trial so far has raised concerns that the religious beliefs of the victims might affect the outcome of the trials.
An eight-minute video clip of the trial uploaded to YouTube raises concerns about judicial impartiality as a judge berates an Ahmadiyah witness, Deden Sujana, about his religious faith and the motivations of the religious community. Defense lawyers have asked inappropriate questions of some witnesses - such as probing Sujana's religious faith -- in an apparent effort to intimidate them, with no interference from the judges. Outside the courtroom, a defense lawyer told reporters that Sujana must be "bullied till he shits" ("digencet hingga mencret"), but has suffered no rebuke from the court.
The Serang district court is separately hearing a case against Sujana on allegations that he had a role in provoking the attack. Prosecutors have called for a six-year prison sentence on charges of incitement, disobeying police orders, and maltreatment (less serious assault). Human Rights Watch urged the Judiciary Commission to monitor Sujana's trial along with the others.
The Ahmadiyah, who consider themselves Muslims, have long been the targets of violence and persecution in Indonesia because some Muslims view them as heretics to Islam. Following a 2008 national decree that requires the Ahmadiyah to stop proselytizing their faith, attacks have increased dramatically - from 3 incidents in 2006 to 50 in 2010, according to the Setara Institute, a nongovernmental group that monitors religious freedom.
"If Indonesia's courts deal properly with these cases, it could go a long way toward protecting religious minorities in the country," Pearson said. "The Judicary Commission should send representatives to monitor the trials to ensure justice is done for all parties involved."