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Suspect’s Plight Reflects Sense of Injustice Felt by Ahmadiyah Followers
Nivell Rayda | October 17, 2010
Ahmad Nuryamin, 35, was arrested and accused of a stabbing he says he was forced to confess to during torture. (JG Photo/ Nivell Rayda)
Bogor. For the past two weeks, 35-year-old Ahmad Nuryamin has been sharing a four-by-six meter cell with 11 other detainees at the Bogor Police headquarters, some of them hardened criminals and rapists.
Nuryamin, or Yamin as he is known to friends and family, had signed a confession saying that he stabbed a 15-year-old boy. But he claims that he only signed it after being tortured by two police officers.
The boy, who has not been identified, is believed to have been part of a mob of some 200 people that on Oct. 1 burned and looted homes, schools and a mosque in the village of Cisalada, home to about 600 followers of the Ahmadiyah, a minority Islamic sect.
“I didn’t stab anyone,” Yamin, an Ahmadiyah member and resident of Cisalada, told the Jakarta Globe. He said that when he saw people trying to burn down the village mosque with Molotov cocktails, he grabbed a kitchen knife from his home for protection and ran to help stop the attack.
“I put the knife in the left pocket of my jeans and ran to the mosque. Amid the chaos, a young boy bumped into my shoulder from behind,” he said. “I reacted instinctively and drew my knife. I could see him falling to the ground. He had a sword with him the whole time. But he immediately got up again and ran away.
“My knife couldn’t have hurt him. I didn’t see any blood on my knife or on my clothes. I even used the same knife to cut a guava later that night — I only have one knife at home you see. I even wore the same clothes when I was arrested the morning after.”
On Oct. 2, two police officers in civilian clothing arrived at Yamin’s home as he and his wife were drying rice.
“They told me that they just wanted to talk. So I went along and followed them to the back of a police pickup truck,” he said.
Yamin said that as they drove to the police station in Ciampea, the two officers punched him on the right side of his face and slapped him across his jaw, splitting his bottom lip.
“Confess, or I will drop you at Pasar Selasa [a local market] and let the mob finish you off. Confess, or I will let the mob burn your village to the ground once more,” one officer threatened, according to Yamin. “During my interrogation, I told the investigators what had happened. They didn’t listen to me and told me to shut my mouth, despite seeing first hand that I had bruises on my cheek and blood running from my lips. I never saw [those two officers] again. I never caught their names, but I can’t forget their faces.”
Bogor Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Tomex Kurniawan has pledged an internal investigation into the torture allegations, but said it was unlikely such force was used. “Why would we even use brute force?” he told the Globe. “We have incriminating evidence, including the kitchen knife that was used to stab the victim. We also have sworn statements from witnesses. A suspect can say whatever he wants, even in court. So we don’t really need a confession.”
Members of the Ahmadiyah, a sect founded in India in 1889, hold that the group’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was a prophet, a belief branded heresy by mainstream Muslims.
The nation’s top Islamic body, the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), issued a fatwa, or religious edict, in 2005 against the Ahmadiyah, calling its teachings blasphemous.
The MUI’s ruling was followed by a wave of violence against members of the sect, who had previously lived in relative peace among other Muslim populations. Amid intensifying calls to ban the sect, the government issued a joint ministerial decree in 2008 that prohibited its members from practicing their faith in public and from spreading its beliefs.
This month’s attack in Cisalada was the latest case of violence and intimidation toward members of the sect, estimated to be around 600,000 nationwide.
Similar vandalism and attacks on Ahmadiyah mosques and dwellings have occurred in other places like West Nusa Tenggara, where homes belonging to members of the sect in Lombok were burned in 2006, leaving more than 100 homeless.
The West Lombok district administration last week said it was planning to relocate the displaced Ahmadiyah members to a remote area, arguing that it was for their own protection.
In Cisalada, harassment against Ahmadiyah members was first recorded in 2007. That year, hundreds of people protested the renovation of the sect’s local mosque. Some even went as far as to vandalize the building materials at the site.
“So you can see why I had to protect the mosque,” Yamin said. “I’m not a religious man, but I couldn’t just stand there and watch as people burned our place of worship and the Koran. I just couldn’t.”
Like other countries, Indonesia recognizes the right to self-defense as justification for using force to counter acts of violence.
“But the use of force has to be proportional,” said Topo Santoso, a legal expert from the University of Indonesia.
He added that if the case went to court, Yamin would have to prove that he did not stab the boy out of vengeance or retaliation. Yamin would also have to prove that he was in immediate danger before defending himself.
“The right to defend oneself should only be used to stop a criminal act from happening, and that is for the court to decide,” Topo said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the Oct. 1 attack, which saw at least 17 homes looted, and two of them reduced to rubble. Bogor Police have charged three suspects — identified only as RM, DM and AB — said to have been directly involved in the attack. But unlike Yamin, they have not been taken into police custody.
“We don’t want to cause more problems. Our main concern is to prevent a repeat” of the attack on the Ahmadiyah community, said Tomex, the Bogor Police chief. “They have been cooperative. Several community leaders have also vouched for them, guaranteeing that they will not try to run away or destroy evidence.”
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, a nongovernmental organization that promotes religious tolerance, said the fact that police had not yet detained the other three suspects fueled a sense of injustice among the Ahmadiyah.
“It goes to show that Ahmadiyah members are treated differently, not just in their everyday lives but also in the eyes of the law,” he said.
The activist said investigations into attacks against Ahmadiyah members were rare, and that perpetrators often escaped prosecution. “Police must also bring down the attack’s mastermind, financiers and provocateurs,” he said. “Only then will the attacks stop.”
The Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) recently said that the government’s inaction toward attacks against the Ahmadiyah had fueled intolerance and religious tensions.
According to a 2005 study conducted by LSI, only 13.9 percent of 1,000 respondents supported acts of violence towards the group. A similar survey released last week suggested that the number had grown to 30.2 percent.
The situation in Cisalada is starting to return to normal and police have pulled back most of the officers safeguarding the village. For Yamin and his family, however, it will be more difficult to return to their normal lives.
“I just hope Yamin can come home soon. He’s just a simple villager and an honest man,” Yamin’s brother, Dicky, told the Globe.
“Two of his three children were out playing when police arrested Yamin, the other one is just a baby. When the children returned home, their father was already in police custody. I’m having a hard time explaining to them what had happened to their father. I don’t want them to think that their father is a criminal.”