UPDATE: The opening of the trial has now been postponed to April 26.
(New York) - Indonesian authorities should ensure the safety of all those attending the trial of 11 men charged in the deadly February 2011 attacks on the Ahmadiyah community in the village of Cikeusik in western Java, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch said that the trial, which begins April 21, in Serang district, Banten province, can help reduce anti-Ahmadiyah violence in the country if it meets international fair trial standards and provides full protection for victims, witnesses, and court officials.
Longstanding impunity for religious violence in Indonesia has fostered larger and more brutal attacks by Islamist militants against religious minorities, and may have contributed to an April 15 suicide bombing of a police mosque in Cirebon, West Java province, Human Rights Watch said.
"For the Cikeusik trial to be a step toward ending religious violence in Indonesia, the police need to ensure the security of everyone in the courtroom," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Witnesses brave enough to testify, as well as judges and prosecutors, should not have to face intimidation."
On February 6, a mob of about 1,500 people attacked 21 members of the Ahmadiyah religious community in Cikeusik, in Banten province, 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 violence, and the video was later posted by various individuals and organizations on YouTube. Since the attack, Ahmadiyah members in the village have found it difficult to return home due to tension and continued harassment from government officials and other villagers. Only an Ahmadiyah widow and her daughter remain in the village; others have moved to larger cities.
Few cases of violence against religious minorities reach trial in Indonesia, and such trials on Java, Indonesia's majority-Muslim main island, have often been disrupted by Islamist militant threats and violence.
In a trial that began in January in Bogor district court regarding an October 2010 attack on an Ahmadiyah mosque in Cisalada village, more than 1,000 Islamist militants attended the hearings at times. Over the course of the trial, they threatened and harassed witnesses, judges, and prosecutors both in and outside the courtroom. On April 14, three defendants were found guilty of attacking the Ahmadiyah mosque and sentenced to prison terms of between four and six months; prosecutors had sought nine-month sentences.
In 2008, numerous activists from the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) attended the trial of an FPI member charged with violence at a June 2008 interfaith rally supporting the Ahmadiyah at the National Monument (Monas) in Jakarta. A witness said FPI members assaulted her outside the courtroom.
Human Rights Watch called on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to review the increasing violence against religious and other minorities in Indonesia, and to revoke national and provincial decrees that ban Ahmadiyah practices. Over the past three years, there have been more than 180 anti-Ahmadiyah attacks, according to the Setara Institute, a nongovernmental group that monitors religious freedom.
A June 2008 national 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.
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.
On April 15, 2011, a suicide bomber, Mochamad Syarif, detonated a bomb at the mosque in the Cirebon police precinct, West Java, leaving 26 wounded. Syarif had been previously implicated in anti-Ahmadiyah attacks in Manis Lor, West Java, in July 2010, and harassing witnesses in a religious trial on blasphemy in Cirebon in 2010. Footage from Metro TV shows Syarif participating in demonstrations against the Ahmadiyah, banging on a vehicle holding the prosecutor and the blasphemy suspect, and attacking a police barricade at Manis Lor village.
"President Yudhoyono should rein in Islamist militants before they claim more lives, and that starts with revoking policies that promote religious intolerance," Pearson said. "The government should be aggressively prosecuting all those responsible for scores of attacks against religious minorities in recent years."
In a positive development, on February 16, the Nahdlatul Ulama, an independent Islamic organization, released a statement calling on all Muslims to respect the law and avoid religious violence.
Established in Indonesia in the 1920s, the Nahdlatul Ulama is one of the largest Islamic organizations worldwide. The statement says that "differences of religion and belief cannot be a justification to commit violent or arbitrary acts," and urges the government "seriously fulfill its constitutional obligation to enforce the law and provide protection to all citizens regardless of religion or belief."
"A major Muslim organization is telling the government to get serious about ending religious violence and protecting Indonesians of all beliefs," Pearson said. "The government needs to start listening and taking action to prevent future crimes against minorities like the Cikeusik killings and Cirebon bombing."