Religious Persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
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Author: Iain Adamson
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Home U.S. Department of State Annual Report (IRF) 2006: Indonesia
Int’l Religious Freedom Report - 2006: Indonesia

Excerpts from
U.S. Department of State
International Religious Freedom Report 2006 : Indonesia
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
September 15, 2006

The constitution provides for “all persons the right to worship according to his or her own religion or belief” and states that “the nation is based upon belief in one supreme God.” While the Government generally respected freedom of religion, restrictions continued on some types of religious activity and on unrecognized religions. The Government sometimes tolerated discrimination against and the abuse of religious groups by private actors, and often failed to punish perpetrators. [Para # 1]

There was little change in respect for religious freedom during the period covered by the report. Most of the population enjoyed a high degree of religious freedom. Confucians enjoyed a higher degree of religious freedom after concerned government offices recognized Confucianism as an official religion in early 2006; however, with the addition of Confucianism, the Government recognizes only six major religions. Atheists or persons of nonrecognized faiths frequently experienced official discrimination, often in the context of civil registration of marriages and births or the issuance of identity cards. [Para # 2]

The public generally respected religious freedom; however, extremist groups used violence and intimidation to force thirty-four small unlicensed churches and at least seven Ahmadiyya complexes to close in separate incidents over the course of the reporting period. Some government officials and mass Muslim organizations rejected the Ahmadiyya interpretation of Islam resulting in the discrimination and abuse of its followers. Religiously-motivated violence and vigilante acts in Maluku and North Maluku declined significantly, although, as in past years, Central Sulawesi experienced sporadic bombings, shootings, and other violence despite efforts to restore security and promote reconciliation. Government officials worked with Muslim and Christian community leaders to diffuse tensions in conflict areas, particularly in Central Sulawesi and the Moluccas. While Aceh remained the only province authorized to implement Islamic law, or Shari’a, regencies (local districts) outside of Aceh promulgated local laws implementing elements of Shari’a. [Para # 3]

In June 2005 the Council of Ulemas (MUI) issued eleven new fatwas (religious decrees) including one that renewed a 1980 fatwa that banned Ahmadiyya. The government formed the MUI in 1975 as the state’s highest Islamic authority. Although the government also funds and appoints MUI’s members, MUI is not a government body. It’s edicts, or fatwas, are designed to be moral guiding principles for Muslims and, although they are not legally binding, society and the Government seriously consider MUI opinions when making decisions or drafting legislation. The July 2005 fatwa influenced some societal discrimination during the reporting period. [Para # 4]

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The embassy promoted religious freedom and tolerance through exchanges and civil society development. [Para # 5]

Section I. Religious Demography

An archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, the country covers an area of approximately 1.8 million square miles (0.7 million square miles landmass) and had a population estimated at 241 million. [Para # 6]

The Indonesian Central Statistic Bureau (BPS) conducts a census every ten years. The latest data available, from 2000, drew on 201,241,999 survey responses; the BPS estimated that the census missed 4.6 million persons. According to the BPS report, 88.2 percent of the population described themselves as Muslim, 5.9 percent Protestant, 3.1 percent Catholic, 1.8 percent Hindu, 0.8 percent Buddhist, and 0.2 percent “other,” including traditional indigenous religions, other Christian groups, and Jewish. The country’s religious composition remained a politically charged issue, and some Christians, Hindus, and members of other minority faiths argued that the census undercounted non-Muslims. The Government does not recognize atheism. [Para # 7]

Most Muslims in the country follow the Sunni interpretation of Islam: the Shi’a headquarters in Jakarta estimated there were one to three million Shi’a practitioners nationwide. In general the mainstream Muslim community follows two orientations: “modernists,” who closely adhere to scriptural orthodox theology while embracing modern learning and modern concepts; and predominantly Javanese “traditionalists,” who often follow charismatic religious scholars and organize around Islamic boarding schools. The leading “modernist” social organization, Muhammadiyah, claimed approximately thirty million followers, while the largest “traditionalist” social organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), claimed forty million. [Para # 8]

Separate from the country’s dominant Sunni Islam population, a small minority of people subscribed to the Ahmadiyya interpretation of Islam. There were 242 Ahmadiyya branches throughout the country. [Para # 10]

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution provides “all persons the right to worship according to their own religion or belief” and states that “the nation is based upon belief in one supreme God.” Despite its overwhelming Muslim majority, Indonesia is not an Islamic state. Over the past fifty years, many Islamic groups sporadically sought to establish an Islamic state, but the country’s mainstream Muslim community has rejected the idea. An Islamic state is also incompatible with the country’s founding ideology, Pancasila. The Government generally respected religious freedom; however, some restrictions existed on certain types of religious activity and on unrecognized religions. The Government sometimes tolerated extremist groups that used violence and intimidation against religious groups, and it often failed to punish perpetrators of such violence. [Para # 23]

The Government requires officially-recognized religions to comply with Ministry of Religious Affairs and other ministerial directives, such as the Revised Regulation on Building Houses of Worship (2006), Overseas Aid to Religious Institutions in Indonesia (1978), and the Guidelines for the Propagation of Religion (1978). [Para # 24]

Article 156 of the criminal code makes spreading hatred, heresy, and blasphemy punishable up to five years in jail. Although the law applies to all officially recognized religions, it is most often applied to cases involving Islam. This law was used in a number of cases during the reporting period. [Para # 27]

The question of implementing Shari’a generated controversy and concern during the period covered by this report. Aceh remained the only province within the country in which the central Government specifically authorized Shari’a; …… [Para # 28]

The Government’s jurisdiction over religious matters did not prevent approximately thirty regencies and municipalities across the country from promulgating Shari’a-inspired regulations at the local level. Fifty-six parliament members signed a petition requesting a national review of Shari’a-based local laws to test their accordance with the constitution but later dropped their petition. Press reports quoted Muhammad Ma’ruf, minister of home affairs, as stating governors should be responsible for reviewing local laws; however, at the end of the reporting period, neither the central Government nor local governments had not reviewed any Shari’a-inspired regulations. [Para # 29]

The Government permits the practice of the indigenous belief system of Kepercayaan, as a cultural manifestation, not a religion. Followers of “Aliran Kepercayaan” must register with the Ministry of Education’s Department of Education. Some religious minorities whose activities the Government had banned in the past, such as those of the Rosicrucians, were allowed to operate openly. The national Government did not formally ban Ahmadiyya activities, but some local governments did. Despite the central Government’s jurisdiction over religious affairs, the administration did not take a clear position on the bans. [Para # 37]

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Certain policies, laws, and official actions restricted religious freedom, and the Government sometimes tolerated discrimination against and the abuse of religious groups by private actors. [Para # 43]

In 1980 the Indonesian Council of Ulamas (MUI) issued a “fatwa” (a nonlegal, nonbinding but influential opinion issued by Islamic religious leaders) declaring that Ahmadiyya did not form a legitimate part of Islam. Influenced by the fatwa, in 1984 the Religious Affairs Ministry issued a circular banning the Ahmadiyya from disseminating their teachings in Indonesia. In 2003 the Home Affairs Ministry affirmed Ahmadiyya’s legal recognition. However, on July 28, 2005, the MUI renewed the 1980 fatwa. The press quoted the Minister of Religion M. Maftuh Basyuni in February as stating that Ahmadiyya members should either form a new religion or come back into the fold of mainstream Islam. [Para # 44]

Some local governments banned Ahmadiyya activities after militant groups attacked Ahmadiyya mosques, homes, and other private property. In July 2005 the Bogor regency issued a decree prohibiting Ahmadiyya’s activities. In September, following mob attacks on an Ahmadiyya compound, the CirnjurCianjur Regency formally banned all Ahmadiyya activities. In October 2005 the regional representative office of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in West Nusa Tenggara issued a ban on Ahmadiyya. This action followed existing bans in West Lombok (2001) and East Lombok (1983). Local governments claimed such bans sought to keep the peace or protect Ahmadiyya from further violence, but Ahmadiyya and their supporters argued that the local governments punished the victims and rewarded the perpetrators. The central Government condemned the use of violence; however, despite its jurisdiction over religious matters, the central Government did not speak out against or formally review the bans. [Para # 45]

Abuses of Religious Freedom

During this reporting period certain policies, laws, and official actions restricted the religious freedom of the Ahmadiyya community. While mass Islamic organizations condemned the use of violence, the Government implicitly tolerated discrimination and abuse by some societal members toward the Ahmadiyya by remaining silent on both their legal status and local bans. [Para # 61]

Despite a heavy police presence during two separate attacks on an Ahmadiyya Congregation in West Java in July 2005, police made no arrests. A local ban was subsequently passed against the Ahmadiyya, and they were prevented from using their complex. Following two separate incidents in February and March 2006 in which mobs burned or destroyed dozens of Ahmadiyya homes in Lombok, 182 residents began living in government-provided barracks with no viable plan for their return or resettlement. [Para # 62]

In early June 2006 the central Government announced its intentions to crack down on vigilantism by militant groups, but at the end of the reporting period, there were no specific reports of action. [Para # 64]

During this reporting period, the Government also continued to explicitly and implicitly restrict the religious freedom of groups associated with forms of Islam viewed as outside the mainstream. [Para # 65]

In October 2005 the regional representative office of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in West Nusa Tenggara issued a ban on thirteen religious sects, including Ahmadiyya, Jehovah’s Witness, Hari Krishna, and nine forms of traditional beliefs (aliran kepercayaan), as being deviations of Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism. [Para # 66]

Section III. Societal Attitudes

In general Muslims remained tolerant and had a pluralistic outlook; however, in January 2006 the Indonesia Survey Institute (LSI) concluded that conservatism was on the rise.…… [Para # 89]

A significant number of houses of worship were attacked, vandalized, forced to shut down, or prevented from being established as a result of militant groups and mobs throughout the country. [Para # 95]

Muslims routinely reported difficulties in establishing mosques in Muslim-minority areas of Papua, North Sulawesi, and elsewhere. [Para # 97]

Mobs attacked and vandalized at least seven Ahmadiyya mosques in West Java and two Ahmadiyya mosques in South Sulawesi during the reporting period. [Para # 101]

On July 15, 2005, despite a heavy police presence, the Islam Defenders Group (FPI) led a mob in attacking the Ahmadiyya Indonesia Congregation (JAI) headquarters in Bogor, West Java. Armed with stones and batons, the assailants damaged Ahmadiyya buildings and set fire to a women’s dormitory. The attack followed an aborted July 9 attack on the same Ahmadiyya property by individuals associated with the FPI. Police made no arrests in either attack. On July 20, 2005, the Bogor regency Consultative Leadership Council in West Java regency issued a decree prohibiting Ahmadiyya’s activities in the area. The perpetrators of the attacks justified their actions by referring to the 1980 fatwa that declared Ahmadiyya to be “deviant” from Islam. [Para # 102]

On September 19, 2005, in Cianjur, West Java, a mob reportedly attacked and vandalized an Ahmadiyya mosque and private homes and cars belonging to Ahmadiyya members; however, unlike the July attacks, the police reportedly arrested forty-five suspects and pursued criminal charges against twelve alleged ringleaders. Cianjur Regency formally banned all Ahmadiyya activities on September 28, 2005, purportedly to protect Ahmadiyya members from further attacks. The Ahmadiyya compound remained closed through the Idul Fitri holiday, an event that 500 to 700 followers normally attend, and remained closed at the end of this reporting period. [Para # 103]

In two separate incidents in February and March 2006, mobs attacked, burned, or otherwise destroyed dozens of homes in Lombok, forcing 182 residents to evacuate and live in government provided barracks. At the end of the reporting period there was no viable plan for their resettlement. [Para # 104]

At times hard-line religious groups used pressure, intimidation, or violence against those whose message they found offensive. Despite continued criticism from Islamic hardliners, the Liberal Islam Network (JIL) maintained public appeals for individual interpretation of Islamic doctrine and religious tolerance. JIL confronted hardliners in public forums, including seminars. On August 5, 2005, approximately 200 members of the FPI and the Islamic Umat Forum (FUI) gathered to attack JIL offices with the aim of forcing them out of Jakarta. Police blocked the access road to JIL, effectively forcing the mob to disband. [Para # 106]

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. mission in Indonesia, including the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, the consulate general in Surabaya, and the Medan office, regularly engaged government officials on specific religious freedom issues and also encouraged officials from other embassies to discuss the subject with the Government. Embassy staff at all levels met frequently with religious leaders and human rights advocates to promote respect for religious freedom. Embassy staff met regularly with NU and Muhammadiyah officials to clarify U.S. policy and discuss religious tolerance and other issues. [Para # 112]

Mission outreach emphasized the importance of religious freedom and tolerance in a democratic society. During the period covered by this report, the mission promoted pluralism and tolerance through exchanges and civil society programs. [Para # 113]

More than 220 Indonesians visited the United States on short-term programs examining the role of religion in U.S. society and politics. The program allowed these persons to see first hand how religious pluralism, interfaith dialogue, and multiculturalism are integral to a democratic society. Ten Fulbright scholars from the country went to the United States to study degrees directly related to religion in a democratic society. Six U.S. scholars came to the country to teach and conduct research on similar topics. [Para # 114]

One notable visit during the period featured a speaking tour by Diana Eck in conjunction with the launch of the embassy-produced translation of her book, “A New Religious America“; programs like this (25 in all) contributed balance and academic rigor to current discourse in the country about the place of religion in society. [Para # 115]

The U.S. mission reached millions through the production of media programs critical to providing in-depth coverage on religious freedom issues from an American perspective. The mission cosponsored a radio show featuring perspectives on religious difference, tolerance, and pluralism from the perspective of the country's high school and college students living in the United States. A press tour and a jointly produced documentary series generated positive coverage of civic society and volunteerism in America, highlighting how faith-based groups are part of the diverse mix that define positive citizen action in America. The mission contributed a 1,000 sets of video compact discs based on another jointly produced television documentary series, “The Colors of Democracy,” highlighting the positive impact of religious pluralism and interfaith activities in schools and libraries. [Para # 116]

The mission supported the “Religion and Tolerance” call-in weekly talk show that is one of the most widely heard radio talk shows in Asia, promoting democracy, gender equality, and religious pluralism. Listeners from Aceh to Papua responded enthusiastically to the radio program. [Para # 117]

Beginning March 2006 the United States, through the Centre for Religious and Cultural Studies at Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta, started a biweekly-televised talk show simultaneously broadcasted on fifty-eight radio stations throughout the country. The program provided an estimated three million listeners the opportunity to listen to and actively engage in public debates on religious tolerance, human rights, and democracy. The biweekly publication of talk-show transcripts and articles in the newspaper further ensured public access to the debates. [Para # 118]

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