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Police coercing members to quit faith, sect claims
Tom Allard HERALD CORRESPONDENT
March 19, 2011
JAKARTA: Members of the Ahmadiyah religious sect have been pressured by Indonesian security personnel to abandon the faith amid continual harassment of them, sect leaders say.
The military and government ministers have defended their actions, saying there has been no intimidation, only efforts to protect Ahmadis from violence.
Ahmadis have come under increasing attacks in the past 18 months, culminating in the killing of three adherents by a mob of hundreds of Islamists in Banten province last month.
Advertisement: Story continues below The government denounced the violence and 12 people have been arrested.
But since the incident, several provincial governments have introduced edicts banning Ahmadiyah, while the Minister for Religious Affairs, Suryadharma Ali, has continued his campaign for the group to be outlawed entirely.
Ata ur-Rahman, an Ahmadiyah preacher from Cirebon, in west Java, said 12 Ahmadis in his area had been summoned in recent days by the military or district chief to sign a petition disavowing their faith.
“So far only five have signed it and left Ahmadiyah,” Mr Ata said.
Others had been visited at their homes, he said. More than 50 such approaches had been documented in West Java.
“The military guys told them, ‘This is for the sake of security … We don’t want things that occurred in other places happening here too … Therefore, we ask you to join mainstream Islam. Don’t follow a false sect,”‘ Mr Ata said.
Ahmadis follow the Koran and observe most Islamic traditions but they believe that a late 19th-century Indian religious figure, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the messiah foreshadowed in the Hadith.
The belief angers some orthodox Muslims, who view any deviance from the tenet that Mohammed was the final prophet as deeply offensive.
There are more than 200,000 Ahmadis in Indonesia, where the faith was introduced in the 1920s. However, since a presidential decree was issued in 2008, Ahmadiyah adherents are forbidden from proselytising and must observe their religion in private.
The deadly attack in February was captured on video and the shocking footage went viral online. A censored version was shown widely on Indonesian and international television.
It prompted much soul-searching about Indonesia’s commitment to its constitutional right to freedom of religion.
However, incidents of harassment have continued unabated. In West Java, there have been attacks on the homes of Ahmadis, prompting police to question followers of the sect. The perpetrators of the attacks were not arrested.
The local military commander in West Java reportedly demanded the replacement of an Ahmadi cleric at a mosque in Bandung with a preacher from the conservative Indonesian Ulemas Council.
In East Java, Ahmadis were told this month to remove the signs outside their mosque.
In South Sumatra, Ahmadis were ordered to cancel a celebration of the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, said Basuki Ahmad, a preacher from Palembang.
“We are only allowed to hold small gatherings inside our mosques now,” Mr Basuki said.
Five provinces and six regencies have banned the sect since the killings in Banten.
“These decrees place officials on the side of militants who increasingly have been carrying out attacks on Ahmadiyah,” said Phil Robertson, of Human Rights Watch.
But the Minister for Justice and Human Rights, Patrialis Akbar, said there had been no violations by the military or police because they were trying to foster communication between Ahmadis and aggrieved Muslim groups.
The Defence Minister, Purnomo Yusgiantoro, said: “There’s no negative element, there’s no coercion whatsoever.”