March 2011


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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Rule by Violence in Indonesia

Asian Human Rights Commission

Following a series of violent incidents against religious minorities, including the Ahmadiyyah community, two regional administrations in Indonesia issued local decrees banning the Ahmadiyyah followers. On Feb. 6 in Cikeusik Banten, for example, three Ahmadiyyah followers were killed and several injured after an angry mob attacked them. The few police officers present at the incident did little to stop the violence. An internal investigation by the police only named a few lower ranking officers as suspects of negligence but did not address the structural police involvement in such incidents of fundamentalist violence. Acts of violence and protests against Ahmadiyyah followers also took place in other provinces. The bombing of a Jakarta-based office of a non-governmental organization (NGO) advocating religious freedom completes the picture of Indonesian authorities who are not taking the side of the law and who appear unable to withstand the pressure from extremists.

On March 15, 2011, 27 members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter to Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, calling for the 2008 decree against the Ahmadiyyah to be revoked as well as the regional decrees which banned the Ahmadiyyah followers from exercising their religion. The letter is available here. Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protects the rights of everyone to choose and exercise their religion and requires every government to protect this fundamental freedom as a human right. However, the government responded to the call to revoke the decrees by declaring that it reserves the right to treat the Ahmadiyyah religious sect in any manner it likes, the Jakarta Post reported. While the Indonesian government acceded to the ICCPR in 2006, it now openly ignores its earlier commitments to human rights.

On March 15, 2011, a letter was sent to the co-founder of Jaringan Islam Liberal (JIL, or Liberal Islamic Network), Ulil Abshar Abdalla, in East Jakarta. The radio stations housed in the same building witnessed the blast as well. The following unusual events in the building show the inability of police to deal with this violence:

By 10:00 a.m. on March 15, a dark skinned 170-centimeter-tall man wearing a parachute jacket and hat delivered a package wrapped in brown paper to the reception desk of the building used by Jaringan Islam Liberal and the pro-democratic radio station KBR68H and other groups.

At 11:30 a.m., four or five people arrived in a car. Two of them came into the building and identified themselves as members of a travel agency and talked to KBR68H Radio about running promotions for pilgrimages to Mecca on the radio station. After their unusual visit concluded, the men went to visit JIL in the same building with the same request, falsely alleging to have been recommended by KBR68H to talk to JIL. This ploy appeared as an attempt to gain trust.

At 2:30 p.m., three people who identified themselves as coming from the national police headquarters arrived and alleged to want to talk about the recent situation of religious violence and events against the Ahmadiyyah followers. By this time, the staff of JIL had become suspicious about the package they received since it contained a book entitled They Deserved to Be Killed: Because of Their Sins to Islam and Muslims and appeared to be glued together.

Since the suspicion of a bomb in the book arose, it was an unusual coincidence that three members of the police were already in the building when the JIL was able to give the book to them. The local police were also called, and a group of about 10 officers arrived between 3:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. It was soon confirmed that wires in the object made it likely to be a bomb. The police then decided to try traditional methods to neutralize it by pouring water in it after bringing the bomb outside in the back of the building. Following this procedure, the mobile phone battery that had supplied the bomb system with electricity was removed by the police, and this action triggered the bomb. The resulting explosion injured one of the policemen, none of whom were bomb disposal specialists.

A second letter bomb with the same book title was sent to Comr. Gen. Gories Mere, a former key officer of the national police’s elite counterterrorism unit, Densus 88.

Previously, in 2005, KBR68H Radio had become the target of an attack from the Front Pembela Islam (FPI, or Islamic Defenders Front) after the radio had promoted religious tolerance.

A day earlier on March 14 four laptops and one computer were stolen from the office of the Aliansi Nasional Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (ANBTI, or the National Alliance for Unity in Diversity). The group supported and promoted the Indonesian constitutional value of a pluralistic society in Indonesia.

It is not only the police and local administrations that have supported activities against Ahmadiyyah followers. According to the Human Rights Working Group, the Indonesian military has also been involved in activities against the religious minority. Members of the military have occupied mosques and urged Ahmadiyyah members to discard their beliefs. With this activity, the military has gone far beyond its mandate and has thus violated laws.

FPI is believed to be behind recent attacks against the Ahmadiyyah community. Habib Rizieq Shihab, head of FPI, explained that FPI would only settle for peace if the president would ban the Ahmadiyyah in Indonesia. He threatened that violence against Ahmadiyyah followers would continue unless the Islamic sect is legally banned.

The repeated and open threats of violence against religious minorities are a crime in the Indonesian Penal Code. The police often do not react appropriately to such incitements of violence, and authorities instead allow such incidents, like the recent killings and bans, to take place. In some instances, the argument to maintain public security and order is twisted so that the responsibility for the violence is not that of the instigators of the violence but rather belongs to the victims who are accused of causing instability.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the president, the Indonesian government and the national police to protect the country’s constitutional values, human rights and applicable international laws by fully investigating all threats against any religious group in Indonesia and to give full support, including protection measures, to threatened communities. Allegations against members of the police and military of supporting religious extremists or their views must be investigated. Any officer supporting such views should face disciplinary and criminal measures, including suspension and criminal charges.

* The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is a regional non-governmental organization monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984. More information is available on AHRC’s web site at <>.