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(New York) — The killing of three members of the Ahmadiyah religious minority underscores the need for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to immediately revoke a 2008 decree that bans the community’s religious activities, Human Rights Watch said today.
On February 6, 2011, a mob of at least several hundred people attacked about 25 Ahmadiyah members in Cikeusik village, Banten province in western Java, while about 30 police officers who were present made little effort to stop the attack. Senior government officials have condemned the attack and ordered a police investigation, but the government needs to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice and open an independent investigation into why the police did not prevent the attack, Human Rights Watch said.
“How many Ahmadiyah have to die at the hands of mobs before the police step in,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Indonesian government should end this wave of hate crimes and immediately revoke the 2008 anti-Ahmadiyah decree, which encourages these vicious attacks.”
An amateur video obtained by Human Rights Watch shows hundreds of villagers encircling the house of an Ahmadiyah leader, Ismail Suparman, nicknamed Parman, at around 10 a.m. on February 6. A man in a black leather jacket and a skullcap leads the attackers, telling plainclothes police officers outside the house to move away.
The video shows two police trucks parked outside the house. One officer tries to persuade the mob’s leader not to attack, but he waves the police away. A man in military uniform also asks the villagers not to attack. In a matter of seconds, hundreds of the attackers wearing blue ribbons pinned to their chests - to distinguish themselves - enter the house, where at least 21 Ahmadiyah men are taking refugee. The group’s leader takes out a machete. The Ahmadis try to defend themselves with bamboo sticks and stones, but are in no position to stop the mob.
The assailants quickly take over the house and burn it, along with a van and a motorcycle. They order the Ahmadiyah men to strip naked, and the video footage shows gruesome beatings of the men with wooden sticks, hoes, and machetes. Three died and six were injured. Some of the Ahmadiyah in the house remain unaccounted for.
For years, Islamist militants have repeatedly attacked and burned Ahmadiyah homes and mosques elsewhere in Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi. The February attack appears to have been led by militant Islamists who want the Ahmadiyah to leave Cikeusik village. Since last year about a dozen Muslim ulemas (preachers) had allegedly called for a broad campaign of harassment against the Ahmadiyah - ceasing to buy their products, bullying their children at schools, and preventing non-Ahmadiyah from working on their farms.
Senior government officials have called for a prompt police investigation into the violence. Yudhoyono said he regretted the killings and directed the national police chief, Gen. Timur Pradopo, and the minister of religious affairs, Suryadharma Ali, to go to Cikeusik to investigate. But since August 2010, Suryadharma has repeatedly called for banning the Ahmadiyah faith in Indonesia, saying if their activities are not banned, the potential for conflict would escalate.
Human Rights Watch said that an additional fully independent investigation is needed into the role of the police in the February 6 incident. Such an investigation should be credible, transparent, and impartial, Human Rights Watch said.
So far, police have questioned four people in the neighboring regency of Serang and five men in Pandeglang, but no one has been arrested. Suparman and his wife are currently being detained in Pandeglang police station.
“Police should be studying the video closely to identify and apprehend the attackers,” Pearson said. “And there needs to be a full investigation into why the police absolutely failed to prevent this mob from going on a violent rampage.”
Indonesian law facilitates discrimination against the Ahmadiyah. The June 2008 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. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for the government to rescind this decree, as it violates the fundamental right to freedom of religion.
At the time the decree was signed, officials said it was necessary to help stop further violence. Yet since the decree was issued, violence against the Ahmadiyah has increased dramatically from 3 incidents in 2006 to 50 in 2010, according to the Setara Institute, a nongovernmental group that monitors religious freedom.
“The Cikeusik attack is yet the latest example that banning Ahmadiyah religious practices does not deter violence against them,” Pearson said. “Revoking the 2008 anti-Ahmadiyah decree is a crucial first step to reversing this wave of violence, and it needs to happen immediately.”
The Ahmadiyah movement was founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The Ahmadiyah identify themselves as Muslims but differ with other Muslims as to whether Muhammad was the “final” monotheist prophet; consequently, some other Muslims perceive the Ahmadiyah as “heretics.” Approximately 200,000 Indonesians follow the faith.
Prohibiting the Ahmadiyah from practicing their religion violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Indonesia in 2006, which protects the right to freedom of religion and to engage in religious practice “either individually or in community with others and in public or private.” The treaty also protects the rights of minorities “to profess and practice their own religion.”