(New York) – The Indonesian government should immediately intervene to protect members of the Ahmadiyah religious community from intimidation and threats of expulsion by local authorities on Bangka Island, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of a letter issued on January 5, 2016, from the local government of Bangka regency, located off the east coast of Sumatra in Bangka-Belitung Islands province, demanding that the Ahmadiyah either convert to Sunni Islam or to face expulsion from Bangka.
“Bangka officials are conspiring with Muslim groups to unlawfully expel Ahmadiyah community members from their homes,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “President Joko Widodo needs to immediately intervene to uphold the Ahmadiyah’s rights and to punish officials who advocate religious discrimination.”
The January 5 letter is signed by Fery Insani, who as secretary of Bangka regency is the locality’s top bureaucrat. It states, “If the board of the Ahmadiyah community does not return to Islam, we have agreed that the board should leave Bangka and go back to where they belong.” The letter also states that the directive was written on behalf of Bangka Regent Tarmizi Saat.
Members of Bangka Island’s Ahmadiyah community, which consists of only 14 families, told Human Rights Watch that the expulsion order followed months of harassment and intimidation by government officials, police officers, and representatives of Muslim groups. 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.
Ahmadiyah community members said that the official pressure on them to leave the area began on December 14, 2015, when the Bangka regency government convened a meeting of 82 people, including 5 Ahmadiyah, in the government office in Sungailiat town. At the meeting, several officials and police officers urged the Ahmadiyah to voluntarily leave Bangka as soon as possible. Others present at the meeting, including members of the public and government and police officials, suggested the government “expel” the Ahmadiyah immediately, particularly those living in Sungailiat’s Srimenanti district, where the community has an informal house of worship.
The meeting’s minutes obtained by Human Rights Watch reveal that the meeting participants who actively advocated the Ahmadiyah’s expulsion included Husin Jais, the head of the local Religious Harmony Forum (Forum Kerukunan Umat Beragama, FKUB). FKUBs are quasi-government “consultative forums” comprised of religious leaders who advise local governments on the construction of houses of worship. Other meeting participants who advocated for the Ahmadiyah’s expulsion included representatives of Muslim organizations including Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhammadiyah, the Indonesian Ulema Council, and Badan Kontak Majelis Taklim.
The meeting minutes also reported that the Bangka regency government was withholding the official identification card of Achmad Syafei, the Ahmadiyah cleric in Srimenanti, even though he had complied with all administrative requirements in his card application. Official ID cards are necessary to complete basic tasks including opening bank accounts, registering births, and obtaining government-subsidized healthcare.
Indonesia’s Ahmadiyah have been under threat since June 2008 when the government of then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree ordering the Ahmadiyah community to “stop spreading interpretations and activities that deviate from the principal teachings of Islam.” Violations of the decree are subject to up to five years of imprisonment. Following the decree, militant Islamists launched several violent attacks against Ahmadiyah including an attack in Cikeusik in February 2011 in which three Ahmadiyah men were killed.
During Yudhoyono’s decade in power, militant Islamists with the complicity of local police and government officials forced the closure of more than 30 Ahmadiyah mosques, while other religious minorities including the Shia and some Christian groups were also targets of harassment, intimidation, and violence. The frequency and severity of violent attacks on religious minorities have decreased since Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, became president in October 2014, and he has pledged to protect religious minorities and fight religious intolerance.
Indonesia’s constitution in articles 28 and 29 guarantees freedom of religion. Prohibitions on the Ahmadiyah from practicing their religion also violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Indonesia in 2006. Article 18 of the covenant 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.” Article 27 also protects the rights of minorities “to profess and practice their own religion.”
“President Jokowi should demonstrate his opposition to religious discrimination by standing on the side of Bangka Island’s Ahmadiyah community and acting against those officials trying to deprive them of their rights,” Kine said. “Jokowi has an opportunity to prove that the Yudhoyono era of turning a blind eye to attacks on religious minorities is finally over.”