Religious Persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
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Home U.S. Department of State Annual Report (IRF) 2009: Indonesia
Int’l Religious Freedom Report - 2009: Indonesia

Excerpts from
U.S. Department of State
International Religious Freedom Report 2009 : Indonesia External Link - Opens new browser window
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
October 26, 2009

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.

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice; however, ongoing government restrictions, particularly among unrecognized religions and sects of the recognized religions considered “deviant” were significant exceptions to respect for religious freedom. Since the previous reporting period the Government convicted and sentenced the leaders of a hardline Muslim organization to 18 months in prison, including time served, for their role in organized violence against a peaceful demonstration in support of religious freedom. The Government also prosecuted terrorists responsible for religiously tinged violence in Sulawesi and the Malukus. In some cases, however, the Government tolerated discrimination against and the abuse of religious groups by private actors and 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), although non-Muslims in the province are exempted from Shari’a. Many local governments outside of Aceh maintained laws with elements of Shari’a that abrogated certain rights of women and religious minorities; however, no new laws based on Shari’a were known to have passed during the reporting period. Even though the central Government holds authority over religious matters, it did not try 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 forcibly shut at least nine churches and 12 Ahmadiyya mosques. Some of the churches remained closed and one Ahmadiyya mosque in Riau that was completely destroyed had not been rebuilt. Other mosques were reopened. 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 in total less than 1 percent Buddhist, followers of traditional indigenous religions, Jewish, and other Christian denominations. 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. Other Islamic minorities include al-Qiyadah al-Islamiya, Darul Arqam, Jamaah Salamulla (Salamulla Congregation), and members of the Indonesian Islamic Propagation Institute.

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 make it more difficult for individuals to seek employment or enroll children in school.

In June 2008 the Government released a joint ministerial decree freezing the activities of the Ahmadiyya Qadiyani (Ahmadiyya), banning proselytizing by the Ahmadiyya, and prohibiting vigilantism against the group. The decree is short of the outright ban strongly advocated for by hardline groups and a government-appointed body, the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem). 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 on charges of blasphemy. The decree does not prohibit the Ahmadiyya from worshipping or continuing to practice within its own community.

Following the decree’s release, the Government issued a joint circulatory letter providing the executive guidance on the joint ministerial decree on Ahmadiyya. The letter was signed by the Secretary General of the Ministry of Religion, the Assistant Attorney General for Intelligence, and the Director General for National Integration and Internal Politics at the Ministry of Home Affairs. The letter provides guidance for Governors, Regents, Mayors, Heads of the High Court, and Heads of Regional Offices under the Provincial Ministries of Religion throughout the country on proper implementation of the Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB).

Prior to the government decree, Bakor Pakem issued a recommendation to the Government to dissolve the Ahmadiyya. The April 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 that 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 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 considers them when making decisions or drafting legislation. MUI’s influence in restricting religious freedoms increased during the year, sometimes with government support.

In 2007 MUI issued a fatwa with 10 guidelines for determining deviant teachings. These include 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 the minority sect, al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah deviant. It issued a similar fatwa against the Ahmadiyya in 2005.

The 2006 civil registration bill requires citizens to identify their religion on National Identity Cards (KTP). The bill does not allow citizens to identify themselves as anything outside of the six recognized religious groups. Legally, citizens may leave the religious section blank, but some local government officials were not familiar with this option. Members of unrecognized religious groups were often unable to obtain KTPs as a result.

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 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 of the group and 60 persons of other religious groups in the community stating that they support the construction. The decree also requires obtaining approval from the local religious affairs office, the Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB).

The Guidelines for Overseas Aid to Religious Institutions require domestic religious organizations to obtain approval from the Ministry of Religion to receive funding from overseas donors. The Guidelines for Propagation of Religion ban proselytizing under most circumstances.

Article 156 of the Criminal Code makes spreading hatred, heresy, and blasphemy punishable by up to five 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 10 forms of Aliran Kepercayaan as being deviations of Islam, Christianity, or Hinduism. The West Nusa Tenggara Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society closely monitored Ahmadiyya members in Mataram during the reporting period. There were no reports, however, on how the restriction affects the other banned groups in the region. In West Java a joint decree issued in January 2005 in the Kuningan Regency restricts 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 banning the religious group.

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

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government generally respected religious freedom; however, a government decree restricting the ability of the Ahmadiyya to practice freely was 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.

In September 2008 the acting Governor of South Sumatra issued a governor’s decree banning Ahmadiyya. The decree stated that the Ahmadiyya would be prohibited in the province because the sect is not compatible with Islamic teachings. The local ban was supported by officials from the provincial offices of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, local prosecutors, representatives from the local MUI and other Islamic organizations, including academics from Palembang-based Raden Fatah State Islamic Institute. Before the ban, several conservative groups under the umbrella organization Islamic People’s Forum (FUI), including the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and the Indonesian Mujahidin Council, along with Hizbuth Tahrir Indonesia, a transnational organization, demanded the dissolution of the Ahmadiyya sect.

Despite the South Sumatra decree’s violation of the June 2008 central Government decree and guidance on Ahmadiyya, the central Government has taken no action to demand it be rescinded. The decree remains in place, but no efforts have been made to enforce it and local authorities consider that the decree has no force of law, given that the acting Governor was only in power for three months. The Ahmadiyya community reports that it is still able to perform its usual and normal religious activities in the province.

The June 2008, government decree on Ahmadiyya that bans proselytizing and practices deemed to be “deviant” from mainstream Islam came five 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.

Human rights groups continued to receive sporadic reports of local civil registry officials who rejected applications for identity cards (KTPs) submitted by members of unrecognized or minority religious groups. Some applicants found it easier to register with a religion other than their own and were issued KTPs that inaccurately reflected their religion. For example, some animists received KTPs that listed their religion as Islam. Many Sikhs were registered as Hindu on their KTPs and marriage certificates. Similarly, many Jews registered as Christians. Some citizens without a KTP had difficulty finding work. Several NGOs and religious advocacy groups continued to urge the Government to delete the religion category from the KTPs, but no progress was made.

Ahmadiyya followers forced from their homes in West Lombok by a mob in 2006 and living in the Transito Camp in Mataram continued to face difficulty obtaining KTPs due to the absence of a clear home address while displaced in the camp. As a result, The Ahmadiyya sometimes could not get free health services from hospitals as local officials refused to issue notification letters regarding their poor condition. The Ahmadiyya believed that they could obtain KTPs and resolve the issue if they could return to their home village.

In June 2008 in the Solok district of West Sumatra, local officials refused to perform marriage ceremonies for members of the Ahmadiyya sect. However, with the assistance of the local village head, individuals from the Solok district were able to marry in a different district and have not faced problems since their return.

Since the Government promulgated the Revised Joint Ministerial Decree on the Construction of Houses of Worship in 2006, implementation and defense of rights conferred under the decree have not always been enforced at the local level. During the reporting period, some Christian and Hindu groups pointed to sporadic acts of discrimination in which local authorities refused to authorize the building of churches and temples even though the groups managed to collect the necessary signatures.

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 Government also remained silent on the 2005 MUI fatwa that explicitly banned the Ahmadiyya, as well as local government bans. Varying reports provided different numbers of mosques attacked or closed. However, according to national Ahmadiyya spokespersons, since the June 2008 decree, 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 restrict the group’s rights. For the most part, Ahmadiyya followers were allowed to continue worshiping, although some mosques were closed after the decree. However, because of the decree, Ahmadiyya followers were not free to proselytize or otherwise practice their faith publicly.

Authorities failed to halt vandalism on a number of Ahmadiyya facilities during the reporting period.

On June 2, 2009, a mosque belonging to Ahmadiyya members in Kebayoran Lama, South Jakarta, was deliberately set on fire by unidentified arsonists during dawn prayers. Witnesses told police that eight Ahmadiyya members were performing the dawn prayer on the second floor of the two-story building when two men sprayed the mosque with gasoline from a jerry can and lit the fire. There were no injuries in the incident and no arrests were made.

On April 19, 2009 a group of unidentified persons reportedly vandalized the Mahmud mosque in Talaga village. One hundred and fifty residents had sealed the same mosque in July 2008. Also, in July 2008, they sealed the Taher mosque in neighboring Sindankerta village, Cianjur, West Java.

On October 5, 2009, a group of people destroyed the Mubarak mosque in Mahato area, Tanjung Medan village, Pujud District, Rokan Hilir Regency, Riau Province, after the Eid al-Fitr celebration.

On August 27, 2008, hundreds of FPI members threatened the Ahmadiyya congregants of Al Mubarak mosque in Jagakarsa, South Jakarta, and demanded they cease all of their activities before the month of Ramadan.

Members of Ciputat Muslim Community Forum (FMCC) sealed the Baitul Qoyyum mosque belonging to Ahmadiyya on August 19. The FMCC believed that Ahmadiyya members had failed to abide by a joint ministerial decree released in June that banned the group from proselytizing. Police thwarted the residents’ attempt to seal the mosque.

On August 8, 2008, local residents vandalized Baiturahman and Baitol Do’a mosques in Parakansalak, Sukabumi, West Java.

A group of hardliners sealed a small Ahmadiyya mosque in Talaga village and a mosque in Parabon village, Cianjur, West Java on August 1, 2008.

The Ahmadiyya community of 182 individuals living in camps as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in West Lombok since their homes and mosques were attacked by a mob in 2006 continued to face challenges during the reporting period. On April 14, 2009, the local government requested that the IDPs cancel plans to return to their homes in Gegerungan Village due to continued security concerns and pending compensation issues. The April request followed an earlier series of requests in March that the Ahmadiyya delay their plans to return. So far, four families have returned to Gegerungan Village. They are reportedly living and working there safely, although sometimes they still face low level intimidation from the local community.

During the reporting period 125 Ahmadiyya IDPs remained in the Transito Camp and 57 in Praya Camp. In mid-2008 one family from the Praya Camp returned home briefly, only to return to the camp shortly thereafter due to threats of violence. Sources within the Ministry of Religion reported a lower number of 150 IDPs living in the camps, of which 80 had been repatriated back to their homes.

In 2007 the local government reduced the rice subsidy and stopped subsidizing the electricity supply for the IDP camp. At the end of the reporting period, IDPs in the shelter receive two tons of rice subsidies every month. The local government also reduced the water supply to the camp in 2008. 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. Ahmadiyyas who lived in the camps sometimes faced difficulties obtaining an ID card due to the absence of a clear address. However, those who lived in rented houses or took shelter in their family’s houses did not have these problems. Ahmadiyya who lived in the camp also found it difficult to participate in the free health service program for the poor because they were not able to obtain a letter from local authorities verifying their economic status.

In February 2009 the provincial government in West Nusa Tenggara established a “Coordination Team” consisting of 17 members (religious leaders and academicians) to examine Ahmadiyya teaching and to discuss alternative solutions for the Ahmadiyya. The team offered two options: to relocate the Ahmadiyya into a heterogeneous area in Pemanang district in West Lombok, or to disperse them throughout city-owned land. Ahmadiyya representatives said that these two options were not acceptable and too complicated. Most city-owned land is in disputed areas and located in open green space.

During the reporting period, the Government arrested and charged individuals with heresy, blasphemy, and insulting Islam.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

On October 30, 2008, the leader of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), Rizieq Shihab, and the leader of the Islam Troop Command (KLI), Munarman, were sentenced to 18 months in prison, including time served, for their roles in leading attacks on members of the National Alliance for Religious Freedom (AKKBB) on June 1, 2008. The AKKBB was holding a rally in support of religious freedom, pluralism, and tolerance at the National Monument (Monas) square. FPI and KLI members believed the rally was intended as a show of support for the Ahmadiyya. FPI and KLI attacked protesters, including women and children, with sticks and stones, leaving an estimated 70 persons injured. After serving nine months of their 18 month sentence, both Rizieq Shihab and Munarman were released in July 2009 based on good behavior.

Local government officials in West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) demonstrated a willingness to acknowledge the marriages of Ahmadiyya followers. Officials from the NTB Department of Religion went to the Ahmadiyya Transito Camp to marry Ahmadiyya couples, and to record and issue marriage certificates. Unlike previous years, it was difficult for the Ahmadiyya followers to marry as there were no local officials willing to either perform or register the marriage.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There were numerous reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

Controversy over the Ahmadiyya continued throughout the reporting period. Hardline groups renewed attacks on the minority group.

Hardline religious groups 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 a 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. Groups such as FUI, Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia, and FPI threatened senior NU clerics in Cirebon West Java who opposed banning Ahmadiyya. According to media reports and Ahmadiyya sources, after the June 2008 decree, 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.

In August 2008 fifty FPI members rallied in front of East Java DPRD, protesting Ahmadiyya. Eighteen FPI representatives received by East Java DPRD demanded the President issue a Presidential Decree and that the East Java Parliament issue a local regulation (Perda) banning Ahmadiyya teaching because the teaching is in violation of and insulting to Islam.

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, officials of Islamic social organizations, and human rights advocates to clarify U.S. policy in support of religious freedom, discuss religious tolerance, and promote respect for religious freedom. Embassy staff also met with members of minority religious groups, whose houses of worship were forcefully closed, to discuss religious freedom and pluralism.

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

During the reporting period, two short-term programs sponsored by the U.S. Government that incorporated discussions of religious freedom, pluralism, and tolerance in the United States and Indonesia brought a total of 63 Indonesians to the United States. The programs allowed participants to engage in dialogue with U.S. counterparts about the integral roles of religious pluralism, interfaith dialogue, and multiculturalism in a democratic society, to promote the concept of religious freedom in the country. One exchange program offered 45 Indonesian Islamic boarding school (pesantren) educators the opportunity to shadow teachers in 12 schools throughout the United States and give presentations to American students about Indonesia. Participants examined U.S. democracy as well as religious freedom, civic involvement, and religious education in schools, and related those issues to U.S. and Indonesian society. Furthering the program, upon their return to Indonesia the pesantren educators continued dialogue via on-line blogs and e-mail communication connecting both students and educators.

Another exchange program brought 15 American high school teachers together with 17 Indonesian teachers to build a curriculum unit that promotes interfaith dialogue, cultural understanding, and democratic values to build tolerance among various communities. The Americans visited a wide variety of local leaders, teachers, and students, representing the country’s major religious groups, in Yogyakarta, Makassar, Balikpapan, and Jakarta. The Indonesian teachers traveled to the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute to work alongside the Americans in creating this unit of curriculum to be used in American and Indonesian schools.

The Embassy and consulates reached a broad population during the reporting period through the production of media programs that provided in-depth coverage of issues, including religious freedom, from a U.S. perspective. These included several television co-op productions, which aired on major free-to-air Indonesian television stations.

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. Five American religious scholars visited Indonesia on an exchange program and held public discussions on several campuses in Jakarta, Lombok, and Malang in cooperation with state Islamic universities and public universities. More than 1,500 students from a wide range of backgrounds participated in the discussions.

In October 2008 USAID signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Commission on Human Rights. Under this MOU, which will run through July 2010, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) agreed to provide training and technical assistance to selected provincial and district government officials to improve their understanding and implementation of national law protecting freedom of religion.

The U.S. State Department funded a summer institute for university faculty and education practitioners on religious pluralism, democracy, and culture in the United States.

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