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Indonesia Must Step up Efforts to Protect Rights of all Religious Groups

A second brutal mob attack on Indonesia’s Ahmadiyya last week, as well as the harsh sentencing of an Ahmadi victim in a previous attack, are further proof of a troubling downward spiral in religious freedom in Indonesia. Freedom House calls on the Indonesian government to step up its efforts to protect its minority faith communities through effective law enforcement, appropriate and unbiased application of the law, and an active role in promoting religious tolerance at all levels.

On August 13, a mob of 30 members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) attacked the Indonesian Ahmadiyyah Congregation (JAI) secretariat in Makassar, South Sulawesi, injuring three people and damaging JAI property, including its mosque. Although police detained an FPI leader, a riot squad was sent to disperse the mob only after the attacks on the JAI had already taken place.

In a related development, Deden Sudjana, one of 21 Ahmadis who was attacked by a mob of more than 1,000 last February, recently received a six-month prison sentence despite nearly losing his right hand in the attack.  The charges against Deden included injuring one of the attackers and refusing police orders to evict the premises.  In contrast, twelve of the attackers received sentences of between three and six months for killing three Ahmadis. The court meted out lighter sentences than those sought by prosecutors, claiming that the Ahmadiyyah themselves were responsible for inciting the attack. Video captured of the incident show that police stood by and did little to prevent the violence.

“Religious freedom forms a cornerstone of a vibrant democracy and is crucial in ensuring that a variety of other human rights are respected —especially in a country as diverse as Indonesia,” said president of Freedom House, David J. Kramer. “The appalling treatment of the Ahmadiyya community by Indonesian authorities is completely unacceptable, especially in light of the country’s leadership on democracy and human rights issues in the region.”

Recent developments in Indonesia— a country once viewed as an exemplar of religious pluralism and tolerance—highlight the failure of the criminal justice system to respond to increasing social hostilities toward minority religions, particularly the Ahmadiyyah.

A 2008 joint ministerial decree declared the Ahmadiyyah sect a “deviant” form of Islam and contained a directive against proselytizing and shows of “public support” for the religion.  Touted as a compromise to ease tensions among Ahmadis and other Muslims who consider the sect blasphemous, the ministerial decree was followed by a series of similar legislation to ban the religion at the provincial level. The introduction of these decrees has coincided with an escalation in attacks against Ahmadis, Christians, and other religious minorities by militant groups such as the FPI.

“Tragically, it is now safe to say that what many human rights groups predicted in 2008 has now come to pass: the ministerial decree opened the door to a culture of impunity for those who wish to attack not only Ahmadis, but other minority religious communities as well,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, senior program manager for International Religious Freedom at Freedom House. “These decrees send the message that attacks against the Ahmadi and other minorities are now condoned by the authorities and that the perpetrators remain well above the law.”

Indonesia is ranked Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.