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Soldiers’ roles in Ahmadiyah program ‘voluntary’
Ina Parlina and Arya Dipa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Bandung
Soldiers involved in an operation initiated by the West Java administration to convince local Ahmadis to change their beliefs was “voluntary”, the Indonesian Military (TNI) said on Tuesday, emphasizing that they did not violate any regulations.
Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Wiryantoro told The Jakarta Post that the central command did not order the soldiers to assist the West Java administration in carrying out the Operasi Sajadah (Prayer Mat Operation), which aims at returning the Ahmadis — who have been deemed heretical — to the “right path” of Islam.
Wiryantoro added that the soldiers’ involvement was acceptable as long as they did not coerce people and were only trying to help educate the Ahmadis.
“The Ahmadis who converted did it voluntarily,” he said.
But the move drew strong criticism, mainly from legislators and human rights activists. Tubagus Hasanuddin, of the House of Representatives’ Commission I, said the action was wrong because “it intimidated people”.
“Even though the TNI claimed that they only helped the local administration, it’s wrong because their presence would definitely create fear among the Ahmadis” he told the Post, adding that the military should never be involved in such an operation or anything related to religious affairs.
Tubagus said the commission, which was scheduled to meet Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro on Wednesday to discuss the bill on intelligence, would question him about the incidents. He added that the commission invited the TNI chief to the meeting.
A coalition of several human rights groups accused the military of 56 acts of intimidation against Ahmadis in West Java after the attack of Ahmadiyah in Cikeusik, West Java, recently.
West Java’s Ahmadiyah Indonesia Congregation (JAI) protested intimidation by TNI officers during the deployments, complaining to the West Java Legislative Council on Tuesday.
Ahmadiyah spokesman Rafiq Ahmad Sumadi Gandakusuma told the regional councilors in the province about the intimidation they had experienced. “We don’t want the TNI or the police to interfere with our right to worship. They have to do their job, which is to protect the citizens,” Rafiq said, adding that Ahmadiyah also objected to West Java’s gubernatorial decree banning the spreading of Ahmadiyah teachings.
Syarif Bastaman, from the West Java regional council, concurred with Rafiq, saying he regretted that the decree had justified intimidation. “The decree surely needs to be reviewed.”
The human rights coalition, consisting of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, human rights NGO Imparsial and the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, recently published data of at least 56 cases of military officers in West Java working in the program.
They condemned the military for involving itself in religious matters. “President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono must order TNI Chief Adm. Agus Suhartono to stop their actions immediately and investigate the deployment due to alleged human rights and constitutional violations,” said Imparsial program director Al Araf who also represents the coalition.