Religious Persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
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Home U.S. Department of State Annual Report (IRF) 2008: Indonesia
Int’l Religious Freedom Report - 2008: Indonesia

Excerpts from
U.S. Department of State
International Religious Freedom Report 2008 : Indonesia External Link - Opens new browser window
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
September 19, 2008

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. However, the Government officially recognized only six religions, and legal restrictions continued on certain types of religious activity, particularly among unrecognized religions and sects of recognized religions considered “deviant.”

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. However, recommendations by government-appointed bodies and a subsequent government decree restricting the ability of the Ahmadiyya to practice freely were significant exceptions. In some cases the Government tolerated discrimination against and the abuse of religious groups by private actors and often failed to punish perpetrators, although the Government prevented several vigilante actions during Ramadan. Aceh remained the only province authorized to implement Islamic law (Shari’a). Many local governments outside of Aceh maintained laws with elements of Shari’a that abrogated the rights of women and religious minorities; however, no new Shari’a-inspired laws were known to have passed during the reporting period. Even though the central Government holds authority over religious matters, it failed to overturn any local laws that restricted rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Members of minority religious groups continued to experience some official discrimination in the form of administrative difficulties, often in the context of civil registration of marriages and births or the issuance of identity cards.

There were a number of reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Some groups used violence and intimidation to force at least 12 churches and 21 Ahmadiyya mosques to close. Several churches and Ahmadiyya mosques remained closed after mobs forcibly shut them down in previous years. Some Muslim organizations and government officials called for the dissolution of the Ahmadiyya, resulting in some violence and discrimination against its followers. Some perpetrators of violence were undergoing trials during the reporting period. However, many perpetrators of past abuse against religious minorities were not brought to justice.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with government and civil society leaders as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The Embassy promoted religious freedom and tolerance through exchanges and civil society development.

Section I. Religious Demography

An archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, the country has an area of approximately 700,000 square miles and a population of 245 million.

According to a 2000 census report, 88 percent of the population is Muslim, 6 percent Protestant, 3 percent Roman Catholic, 2 percent Hindu, and less than 1 percent Buddhist, traditional indigenous religions, other Christian groups, and Jewish. Some Christians, Hindus, and members of other minority religious groups argued that the census undercounted non-Muslims.

Most Muslims in the country are Sunni. The two largest Muslim social organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, claimed 40 million and 30 million Sunni followers, respectively. There are also an estimated 1 million to 3 million Shi’a.

Many smaller Muslim organizations exist, including approximately 400,000 persons who subscribe to the Ahmadiyya Qadiyani interpretation of Islam. A smaller group, known as Ahmadiyya Lahore, is also present. ………

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and accords “all persons the right to worship according to their own religion or belief.” The Constitution states that “the nation is based upon belief in one supreme God.” The first tenet of the country’s national ideology, Pancasila, similarly declares belief in one God. Government employees must swear allegiance to the nation and to the Pancasila ideology. Other laws and policies placed some restrictions on certain types of religious activity, particularly among unrecognized religious groups and “deviant” sects of recognized religious groups. The Government did not use its constitutional authority to review or revoke local laws that violated freedom of religion.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs extends official status to six religious groups: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Unrecognized groups may register with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism as social organizations. Although these groups have the right to establish a house of worship, obtain identity cards, and register marriages and births, they face administrative difficulties in doing so. In some cases these challenges made it more difficult for individuals to seek employment or enroll children in school.

On June 9, 2008, the Government announced a joint ministerial decree freezing the activities of the Ahmadiyya Qadiyani (Ahmadiyya) and prohibiting vigilantism against the group. The decree was short of an outright ban for which hardline groups and a government-appointed body, the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem), were strongly advocating. The decree was signed by the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of Religion, and the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Minister of Religious Affairs stated that violations of the ban on proselytizing would result in a maximum 5-year jail sentence under charges of blasphemy. Vice President Kalla stated that the decree did not prohibit the Ahmadiyya from worshipping or continuing to practice within its own community.

Prior to the government decree, Bakor Pakem issued a recommendation to the Government to dissolve the Ahmadiyya. The April 16, 2008, recommendation declared the group heretical and deviant, citing a 1965 presidential instruction on the “prevention of misuse and disgrace of religion.” The Government delayed action on issuing a formal decree against the group amid pressure from civil society and Islamic organizations who claim the ban would be unconstitutional and contrary to the teachings of Islam.

The Indonesian Council of Ulamas (MUI) released a number of fatwas (religious decrees) in recent years on the issue of “deviance” from mainstream Islam, including recommendations to ban the Ahmadiyya, that were influential in enabling official and social discrimination against the Ahmadiyya and other minority religious groups during the reporting period.

The Government formed the MUI in 1975 and continued to fund and appoint its members, but MUI opinions are not legally binding. Nevertheless, the MUI’s edicts or fatwas are designed to be moral guiding principles for Muslims and society, and the government seriously consider them when making decisions or drafting legislation. MUI’s influence in restricting religious freedoms increased during the year, sometimes with government support.

In November 2007 the MUI issued a fatwa with 10 guidelines for determining deviant teachings. These included: disagreeing with any of the six core principles of Islam; acknowledging a prophet after Muhammad; and changing or modifying Islamic rituals such as performing the Hajj to a place other than Mecca or saying that prayer five times daily is not necessary. In October 2007 the MUI declared that the minority sect, al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah, was deviant. It issued a similar fatwa against the Ahmadiyya in 2005.

The Government requires officially recognized religious groups to comply with Ministry of Religious Affairs and other ministerial directives, such as the Revised Joint Ministerial Decree on the Construction of Houses of Worship (2006), Overseas Aid to Religious Institutions in Indonesia (1978), and the Guidelines for the Propagation of Religion (1978).

The 2006 Revised Joint Ministerial Decree on the Construction of Houses of Worship requires religious groups that want to build a house of worship to obtain the signatures of at least 90 members and 60 persons of other religious groups in the community stating that they support the establishment. The decree also requires obtaining approval from the local religious affairs office, the Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB).

Article 156 of the Criminal Code makes spreading hatred, heresy, and blasphemy punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Although the law applies to all officially recognized religions, the few cases in which it has been enforced have almost always involved blasphemy and heresy against Islam.

Many of the country’s policies concerning religion are enacted and enforced at the subnational level. Since October 2005 the regional representative office of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in West Nusa Tenggara upheld a ban on 13 religious groups, including the Ahmadiyya, Jehovah’s Witness, Hare Krishna, and 9 forms of Aliran Kepercayaan as being deviations of Islam, Christianity, or Hinduism. The West Nusa Tenggara Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Pakem NTB) closely monitored Ahmadiyya members in Mataram during the reporting period. There were no reports, however, on how the restriction affected the other banned groups in the region. In West Java a joint decree issued in January 2005 in the Kuningan regency restricted the propagation of Ahmadiyya teachings. On May 5, 2008, Pakem West Java recommended municipal authorities ban Ahmadiyya. On May 6, 2008, the Mayor of Cimahi, West Java, issued an order to ban the religious group.

The Government bans proselytizing, arguing that such activity, especially in religiously diverse areas, could prove disruptive.

Religious speeches are permissible if they are delivered to members of the same religious group and are not intended to convert persons of other religious groups.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government generally respected religious freedom; however, recommendations by government-appointed bodies and a government decree restricting the ability of the Ahmadiyya to practice freely were a significant exception. Certain other laws, policies, and official actions also restricted religious freedom, and the Government sometimes tolerated private actors’ discrimination against and abuse of individuals based on their religious belief.

Local governments issued bans against Ahmadiyya, al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah, and other minority Islamic sects during the reporting period and monitored them closely, frequently at the request of local MUI chapters.

The June 9, 2008, government decree on the Ahmadiyya that bans proselytizing and practices deemed to be “deviant” from mainstream Islam came 5 months after a government-appointed team began monitoring the Ahmadiyya at the request of MUI. Civil society activists have said that passage of the decree was the most recent example of an escalating effort by Islamic hardliners to restrict the practice of the Ahmadiyya.

On April 19, 2008, approximately 350 Ahmadiyya members from 200 chapters throughout the country were forced to cancel their national conference in Bali. Ahmadiyya spokesperson Syamsir Ali said the Bali Police would not issue them a permit on the grounds of security following Bakor Pakem’s decision to recommend a joint decree restricting Ahmadiyya practices.

In November 2007 the Bangka Belitung local government asked Ahmadiyya to stop all public activities due to complaints from the local community. This action affected approximately 17 households of Ahmadiyya followers.

The Government requires all adult citizens to carry a KTP, which among other things, identifies the holder’s religion. While members of unrecognized religious groups may legally leave this section blank, in practice they are often unable to obtain KTPs unless they identify themselves as belonging to a recognized religious group. Human rights groups continued to receive sporadic reports of local civil registry officials who rejected applications submitted by members of unrecognized or minority religious groups. Others accepted applications but issued KTPs that inaccurately reflected the applicants’ religion. For example, some animists received KTPs that listed their religion as Islam. Many Sikhs registered as Hindu on their KTPs and marriage certificates. Some citizens without a KTP had difficulty finding work. Several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious advocacy groups continued to urge the Government to delete the religion category from the KTPs, but no progress was made.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

During the reporting period, the Government continued to explicitly and implicitly restrict the religious freedom of groups associated with forms of Islam viewed as outside the mainstream.

The Government tolerated discrimination and abuse toward the Ahmadiyya by remaining silent on the 2007 MUI fatwa containing guidelines condemning Islamic groups such as the Ahmadiyya who profess belief in a prophet after Muhammad, the 2005 MUI fatwa that explicitly banned the Ahmadiyya, and local government bans. Varying reports provided different numbers of mosques attacked or closed. However, according to national Ahmadiyya spokespersons, during the reporting period, 21 Ahmadiyya mosques were forced to close around the country; 15 were closed in West Java alone. The June 2008 joint ministerial decree on the Ahmadiyya responded to calls to address the group’s rights. For the most part, Ahmadiyya followers have been allowed to continue worshiping, although some mosques were closed after the decree. However, because of the decree, Ahmadiyya followers are not free to proselytize or otherwise practice their faith publicly.

Local sources reported 2 Ahmadiyya camps in Lombok housed 194 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been living in the camps since attacks by local Muslims destroyed their homes and mosques in early 2006. There were approximately 137 Ahmadiyya IDPs living in Transito Camp and 57 in Praya Camp at the end of the reporting period. One family from the Praya Camp returned home briefly, only to return to the camp shortly thereafter due to threats of violence. Four of the families displaced in 2006 relocated with family members in South Sulawesi. Sources within the Ministry of Religion reported 150 IDPs living in the camps, of whom 80 had been repatriated back to their homes.

Although irregular and limited in scope, the local government continued to provide rice assistance to the IDPs. The local government did not have any plans to return them to their home village. Sources said the local government had done nothing to resolve the issue and that the central Government needed to step in. The local Ahmadiyya chapter sent a letter to the Minister of Religion requesting concrete action.

The Ahmadiyya families say they will not return to their homes because they fear local government officials cannot guarantee their safety. Camp conditions remained difficult with cramped living space and limited access to water. Although children have been able to attend local schools since 2006, they faced harassment.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There were a number of reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. In December 2007 and again in April 2008, the Chief of Police announced that police would protect minority groups across the country, including the Ahmadiyya, but failed to prevent several closures and attacks, particularly in West Java.

Controversy over the Ahmadiyya continued throughout the reporting period. Hardline groups renewed attacks on Ahmadiyya, particularly in West Java, with the destruction of the group’s second largest mosque and adjoining school. These attacks took place despite protection from local police. Additionally, hardline groups threatened senior NU clerics in Cirebon, West Java, for speaking out against a ban.

Hardline religious groups further demanded the Government act quickly to disband the Ahmadiyya and threatened to do so independently if the Government failed to act. Various rallies took place throughout the country both for and against the ban. Civil rights activists, members of the Presidential Advisory Council, and some leaders from Muhammadiyah and Nadhlatul Ulama spoke out claiming such a ban would be unconstitutional and contrary to the principles of Islam. According to media reports and Ahmadiyya sources, after the June 2008 joint decree prohibiting some Ahmadiyya practices, as well as acts of vigilantism and violence against Ahmadiyya, hardline groups in some areas vandalized or closed 20 Ahmadiyya mosques. Women’s groups reported continued discrimination against Ahmadiyya women and children whose schools were forced to close.

On June 1, 2008, approximately 1,000 persons rallied at the National Monument in Jakarta (Monas) to defend the rights of Ahmadiyya to practice their faith. The event was ambushed by members of Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia, Islamic Community Forum (FUI), and FPI, who attacked participants with bamboo sticks and stones. More than 70 persons involved in the rally were seriously injured. Police made no arrests at the scene and did not intervene until the attacks had already been carried out. Ten suspects were arrested and remained under investigation while in custody by the end of the reporting period.

On April 27, 2008, there were several reports of violence against Ahmadiyya members and its facilities, including the burning of the group’s second largest mosque in Sukabumi, West Java, Al Furqon. An elementary school belonging to Ahmadiyya in the same compound was also destroyed. At least 21 Ahmadiyya mosques were forced to close, 15 of them in West Java. The national Government, moderate Islamic groups, and civil society all condemned the violence. Local police, although deployed to protect the facilities, failed to stop the attacks. Local police in Sukabumi detained 12 persons for their alleged participation in the mosque burning, although no charges were filed by the end of the reporting period.

On April 26, 2008, leaders of several Islamic Boarding Schools in Pasuruan, East Java, tried unsuccessfully to force the Government to forbid all types of Ahmadiyya activities.

On April 24, 2008, 28 youth and religious organizations in East Java protested a possible government ban on the Ahmadiyya saying it would be unconstitutional. On April 20, 2008, 14 NGOs in East Java from the East Java Anti-Discrimination Islamic Network held a press conference and issued a statement to the media claiming that disbanding Ahmadiyya violated human rights and was unconstitutional, and they vowed to protect Ahmadiyya members who felt threatened.

On December 19, 2007, a small mosque and dozens of houses belonging to Ahmadiyya members were attacked by the anti-Ahmadiyya movement Gerah in the village of Manis Lor, Kuningan, West Java. Four persons were injured.

Unlike in West Java, Ahmadiyya members in West Nusa Tenggara did not request police protection and claimed not to fear attacks. Ahmadiyya in Surabaya and Madiun, East Java, were also reportedly conducting business as usual. In addition, a number of NU clerics from Surabaya, East Java, and Majalengka, West Java, offered their support for Ahmadiyya.

Several houses of worship, religious schools, and homes of Muslim groups regarded as unorthodox were attacked, vandalized, forced to shut down, or prevented from being established by militant groups and mobs throughout the country. In several cases police temporarily detained members of “deviant groups” who were victims of attacks, ostensibly in order to ensure their safety, but did not arrest attackers.

Hardline religious groups used pressure, intimidation, or violence against those whose message they found offensive. Groups such as FUI, Majlis Mujahidin Indonesia, and FPI threatened senior NU clerics in Cirebon West Java who opposed banning Ahmadiyya. Militants purporting to uphold public morality sometimes attacked cafes and nightclubs that they considered venues for prostitution or that had not made payments to extremist groups, although the number of such incidents decreased compared to previous years.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, consulate general in Surabaya, and consulate in Medan regularly engaged government officials on specific religious freedom issues, and also encouraged officials from other missions 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 members of minority religious groups, whose houses of worship were forcefully closed, to discuss religious pluralism. Embassy staff met regularly with NU and Muhammadiyah officials to clarify U.S. policy in support of religious freedom and discuss religious tolerance and other issues.

Embassy and consulate outreach to the public emphasized the importance of religious freedom and tolerance in a democratic and diverse society. During the reporting period, the Embassy and consulates promoted pluralism and tolerance through exchanges and civil society programs.

During the reporting period, 14 Indonesians visited the United States on short-term programs that incorporated discussions of religious freedom in the United States and Indonesia. The programs allowed participants to engage in dialogue with U.S. counterparts about the integral role of religious pluralism, interfaith dialogue, and multiculturalism in a democratic society, in order to promote the concept of religious freedom in the country. For example, one citizens exchange program offered 12 Indonesian Islamic scholars the opportunity to meet peers in the United States. They examined U.S. democracy as well as discussed religious freedom, civic involvement, religious education, and Islam in the world today, and related those issues to U.S. and Indonesian society. Furthering the program, five U.S. scholars committed to interfaith dialogue and cultural understanding visited with a wide variety of local leaders, teachers, and students, representing the country’s major religious groups, in Palembang, Yogyakarta, and Jakarta. They specifically promoted the idea of religious freedom, and were the subject of an article in the Jakarta Post.

During the reporting period, the U.S. Embassy and consulates reached millions through the production of media programs that provided in-depth coverage of religious freedom issues from a U.S. perspective. These included the Greetings from America radio show, which periodically featured topics such as religious freedom, religious differences, tolerance, and pluralism from the perspective of Indonesian high school and college students living in the United States. This radio show aired 9 times a week to a potential audience of 10 million persons in 6 cities.

Through September 2007 the Embassy and consulates supported the publication of supplemental editions to a weekly magazine to provide objective information on the efforts of prodemocratic Islamic networks to support the democratic process, including religious freedom, tolerance, civil rights, and democracy. The magazine distributes 90,000 copies nationwide on a weekly basis with an estimated readership of 450,000 persons.

During the reporting period, the Embassy and consulates also supported campus seminar programs aimed at strengthening supporters of pluralism on Islamic campuses and reinforcing an understanding of religious freedom, tolerance, pluralism, and gender equity. Public discussions were held on several campuses in Jakarta, Serang, Rangkasbitung, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Mataram, and Medan in cooperation with state Islamic universities and public universities, such as Gajah Mada University and the University of North Sumatra. More than 1,500 students from a wide range of backgrounds and 50 national and local speakers were involved in the discussions.

Implementers of the program RESPECT (Religious and Social Pluralism, Equity and Tolerance) convened a board of advisors of prominent civil rights advocates of religious freedom and minority rights. Program implementers held a series of community discussions to promote religious and social pluralism in targeted communities in the provinces of West Java, Central Java, and Banten. As part of this program, the Embassy and consulates worked with the Wahid Institute, an Islamic NGO founded by former President Wahid and dedicated in large part to promoting religious tolerance, to complete an assessment relating to national regulations that influence religious life and religious pluralism. The Embassy and consulates worked with the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture at the State Islamic University to assess the impact of Shari’a regulations in Tangerang.

The U.S. State Department funded a program on civic education that promoted religious tolerance. The program supported cooperative links among groups previously in conflict, in working to prevent sectarian violence. A State Department-funded program facilitated two-way exchange between religious scholars, clerics, and community leaders of Indonesia and the United States, examining the compatibility of religious practice and pluralism. Many programs supported by the State Department fostered interfaith cooperation among students and community leaders.


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