Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Indonesian Authorities Vow Inquiry After Attack

Published: February 08, 2011

JAKARTA - The gruesome video is as disturbing for what is not happening as much as for what is.

Hundreds of shouting Muslim villagers carrying machetes and sticks march on a house where about 20 members of Ahmadiyya, a minority Muslim sect, are holed up. Roof tiles and windows explode in a hail of rocks until, surging forward in greater numbers, the villagers break through.

Those not lucky enough to escape are brought outside and dumped, beaten, stripped and muddied on the ground. As crowds surge, angry villagers hit and stomp on their apparently lifeless bodies.

Throughout the video shot on Sunday - despite a few desultory attempts at intervention - thoroughly outnumbered police officers simply look on as three Ahmadis are killed and half a dozen wounded. The crowd goes home, with no arrests.

The violence in a village in the Indonesian province of Banten is the latest incident in what advocates say is a rising tide of oppression against the Ahmadiyya sect, which originates in South Asia and has been denounced as "deviant" by Indonesia's top clerics and subject to a government decree restricting its activities.

Advocates say the attack, in full view of the authorities, is a clear sign, advocates say, that the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is turning a blind eye to mob violence against a range of religious minorities stoked by a vocal Islamist fringe.

"The police have done nothing from the beginning," said Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the vice chairman of the Setara Institute, a Jakarta organization that promotes religious tolerance. "No preventative action from police, not just yesterday, but in every case related with religious conflict."

"They think they're above the law so they can do anything without sanction, without action from law enforcement," he said.

The latest incident is the bloodiest in an increasing number of attacks against Ahmadiyya, which is detested by some mainstream Muslims who see the sect's founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, as a heretic for claiming he was a prophet.

There were 50 incidents of religious oppression against Ahmadis in 2010, up from 33 in 2009 and 15 in 2008, according to the Setara Institute. Even more incidents have occurred involving attacks by Muslims on Christian houses of worship deemed to lack the proper permits.

Responding to pressure from hardliners to disband Ahmadiyya, the government of Mr. Yudhoyono in 2008 passed a compromise decree banning Ahmadis from proselytizing. The government insists the ban is essential for averting conflict, but liberals say it merely provides a pretext for further violence. Conservatives, including the religious affairs minister, Suryadharma Ali, have argued that the government should go further and break up Ahmadiyya.

Officials publicly condemned the Sunday attack and pledged to crack down on those behind it.

Mr. Yudhoyono on Monday ordered a special investigation and called for harsh punishment for those involved, including any government officials and police officers found negligent.

A spokesman for the National Police, Col. Boy Rafli Amar, said the police had done everything in their power to prevent violence between villagers and Ahmadis, which had been simmering for days. But when villagers suddenly charged at the home of a local Ahmadi leader, the police were simply surprised and outnumbered. Eight people had been taken in for questioning as witnesses but none had so far been declared suspects, he said.

"There were efforts but it was just that there weren't enough police to balance out the community. This village is far away, isolated, in the interior," Colonel Amar said.

"Police will act strongly against anyone who commits violence, who violates the law, especially if it involves people getting killed. So, no need to worry. We'll look for whoever is involved up there."An initial investigation showed that "provocateurs" had incited villagers to violence, Colonel Amar said, but it was too early to say if the mob had been directed by members of an Islamic group.

Radical groups, like the Islamic Defenders Front, have been able to intimidate minorities with impunity, rights groups say.

But Firdaus Mubarik, a spokesman for Ahmadiyya in Jakarta, said it was clear that the police were tolerating violence against Ahmadis and Christians as part of a broader approach by Mr. Yudhoyono of refusing to tackle Islamists, who are a slim but vocal minority in Indonesian politics.

"The police and the state are consistently allowing violence against Ahmadiyya," Mr. Mubarik said. "Every time, the police don't catch the offenders. Even those who are arrested are only the followers, not the instigators, and they're punished extremely lightly.

"I believe SBY knows what's happening to Ahmadiyya and he's letting it happen," he said, referring to the president by his initials.

To back his claim that the Sunday attack was coordinated and premeditated, Mr. Mubarik pointed out that the mob arrived without uniforms, but wore blue ribbons to differentiate themselves from the Ahmadis.Throughout the attack, members of the mob appeared to show little fear of being caught and punished, he said.

One piece of supporting evidence, according to Mr. Mubarik: at one point during a video of the clash, as rocks fly back and forth, one attacker notices he is being filmed, and turns to the camera. Pressing his palms together in front of his face in a position of prayer, he looks at the camera, and offers a wide smile.

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Churches destroyed after blasphemy sentence handed down

Feb 8, 2011 12:50 GMT

Three Christian churches in Indonesia were destroyed by an angry mob during clashes with police Tuesday that erupted after a local court handed down a verdict against a Christian man accused of blasphemy against Islam, authorities said. The man was given a five-year sentence, said national police spokesman Col. Boy Rafli Amar, but the protesters wanted him to face a stiffer penalty.

The destroyed churches were in Temanggung, Central Java, Amar said. "The scene is now under police control," he said. "It's calm but security is high." Security personnel are searching for those responsible for the attack on the churches, and authorities are "asking local religious leaders to stay calm and find diplomatic ways to solve the problem."

The attacks were the second violent incident against minority religious groups in Indonesia in the past three days. On Sunday, a mob of about 1,000 people, wielding knives and stones, attacked about 25 members of the Muslim minority sect, Ahmadiyah, in Cikeusik village in West Java's Banten province.

Three people were killed and six others injured. The crowd opposed the presence of the Ahmadiyah in the village and demanded the group stop its activities. Amateur video of the incident obtained by Human Rights Watch showed people pummeling what looked like lifeless bodies with sticks and rocks. The video has been posted on the internet, fueling public outrage.

In a televised statement Monday, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the violence against Ahmadiyah and ordered a thorough investigation. Human rights activists, however, are calling for the government to revoke a ministerial decree issued in 2008 that bans the community's religious activities.

"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."

The Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, a local think tank, noted in a recent report a marked increase in the number of attacks against Ahmadiyah and other minority religions in Indonesia in recent years.

The most populous Muslim country in the world, Indonesia has previously been touted as an example of tolerance and democracy in the Islamic world. But a 2009 study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in Washington suggested it was actually among the most restrictive countries when it comes to religion.
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