(Jakarta) – The light sentences imposed on Islamist militants for a deadly attack on a religious minority in Indonesia reflect the authorities’ weak efforts to prosecute the case, Human Rights Watch said today. The verdicts, announced on July 28, 2011, are a setback for religious freedom in Indonesia, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch said both police and prosecutors failed to present a fully compelling case against the 12 defendants for their role in an organized attack on the Ahmadiyah community in Cikeusik village, Banten province in western Java on February 6 that left three people dead and five seriously injured. Police did not conduct thorough investigations, and prosecutors did not call key eyewitnesses to the attack. The prosecutors also sought reduced sentences, contending that the Ahmadiyah provoked the attack.
“Indonesian authorities should be making all-out efforts to bring to justice those who kill people because of their religious beliefs,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Cikeusik trial sends the chilling message that attacks on minorities like the Ahmadiyah will be treated lightly by the legal system.”
The Serang district court in Java found 12 persons guilty on a mixture of charges, including public incitement, illegal possession of sharp weapons, destruction of property, maltreatment of others, individual assault, participating in an assault, involvement in an attack, and attacking others causing serious injuries or death. The court sentenced the accused to between 3 to 6 months in prison. Assault resulting in death can bring a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison.
None of the defendants were charged with murder or manslaughter.
Much of the attack on the Ahamadiyah home, which involved some 1,500 Islamist militants against about 20 Ahmadiyah members, was captured on video and posted on the Internet.
At the trial, which began on April 26, prosecutors only recommended sentences of up to seven months, saying that the sentences should be reduced since the Ahmadiyah members partly provoked the attack and filmed and distributed videos of the attack. By contrast, in a separate trial against an Ahmadiyah member, Deden Sujana, for his alleged role in provoking the attack, the prosecutors have charged him with incitement, disobeying police orders, and maltreatment. One of those charges, disobeying police orders, provides a maximum sentence of four years.
“It’s outrageous that the prosecutors asked for a reduction in sentences on the basis that the Ahmadiyah filmed and distributed a video of the attack on their community,” Pearson said. “It is telling victims of serious crime that they should keep quiet rather than come forward.”
Arif, an Ahmadiyah present during the attack, made the recording of the violence, which was later posted on YouTube. The police and prosecutors used the 28-minute video in their investigation. The 12 defendants were identified from the video footage and can be seen beating Ahmadiyah members.
The three Ahmadiyah members killed – Warsono Kastolib, Roni Pasaroni, and Tubagus Chandra – died of multiple injuries sustained during the attack, forensic reports said. In the footage, a 17-year-old defendant, “D.,” whose name was withheld because he is a child, hits Kastolib, who is sitting next to a hedge, on the head with a large stone. According to the prosecution, D. then struck the fallen Kastolib six times in the head with a wooden stick. The prosecutors also said that D. later struck Pasaroni, who was lying motionless, with a wooden stick. The prosecutors said that Chandra was killed when the crowd caught him next to the Ahmadiyah house.
Police investigations of the attack were woefully inadequate, Human Rights Watch said. Police interviewed Arif and two of the five Ahmadiyah who were seriously injured, but failed to question other Ahmadiyah who were injured or present during the attack or to ask them to testify.
“An extremely well-organized group of attackers targeted a religious minority group, yet the authorities have made no apparent effort to uncover the people behind the attack,” Pearson said. “The police shouldn’t rest until those who orchestrated the violence are arrested.”
One of those seriously injured, Muhamad Ahmad, told Human Rights Watch that he was not given an opportunity to testify at the trial.
“I might not recognize them, one by one, but I could describe the situation,” he said. “We were just trying to defend our properties. Hundreds of Ahmadiyah properties were destroyed and the government did almost nothing.”
Sujana, the Ahmadiyah being tried on charges of provoking the attack, was the only Ahmadiyah member asked to testify. He was berated by a judge about his faith and his motivations in going to Cikeusik that day, a scene videoed and available on YouTube. Responding to a question from the judges, prosecutors claimed they could not find the addresses of other witnesses, although two of them later testified at Sujana’s trial.
“The Cikeusik trial should have been a way to show vulnerable groups in Indonesia that when they are targets of violence, the state will protect them,” Pearson said. “Instead, these sentences will embolden militants who will see that using deadly violence brings few consequences.”
The Ahmadiyah, a religious community founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, identify themselves as Muslims but differ with other Muslims about whether Muhammad was the “final” monotheist prophet. Consequently, some Muslims perceive the Ahmadiyah as “heretics.” Approximately 200,000 Indonesians follow the faith.
Indonesian law facilitates discrimination against the Ahmadiyah. A 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.
At the time the 2008 decree was signed, officials said it was necessary to help stop further violence. Yet since the decree, violence against the Ahmadiyah has increased dramatically, from three incidents in 2006 to 50 in 2010, according to the Setara Institute, a nongovernmental group that monitors religious freedom.
Few cases of violence against religious communities make it to court in Indonesia. When cases are brought to trial, the sentences for those convicted rarely match the seriousness of their crimes. In a trial that began in January in Bogor district court, three defendants were tried for setting fire to an Ahmadiyah mosque, a school, and more than a dozen houses in an October 2010 attack in Cisalada village, western Java. Three Ahmadiyah were injured in the attack. On April 14, the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms of between four and six months, while an Ahmadiyah man who tried to defend himself from attack was sentenced to nine months in prison.
Earlier in 2011, more than a dozen provincial governors and regents issued anti-Ahmadiyah regulations, contradicting Indonesia’s Autonomy Law, which prohibits regional governments from regulating religious matters. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to rescind the 2008 decree, as it violates the fundamental right to freedom of religion. The Home Affairs Ministry should also annul all regional regulations on religions.
Prohibiting the Ahmadiyah from practicing their religion violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Indonesia in 2005, which protects the right to freedom of religion and the right 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.”