Verdict in Indonesia: A Disturbing Blow to Religious Freedom and Pluralism


The disproportionately lenient sentences handed down today by an Indonesian court against twelve people accused of brutally killing three members of the Ahmadiyya community sends a disturbing signal that religious minorities will not be adequately protected in Indonesia, according to Freedom House.
A court in Serang District, West Java sentenced the ten men and two boys to 3 to 6 months in prison today on a variety of assault charges, but stopped short of convicting them of murder. The charges stem from a February 2011 incident in which a mob of approximately 1,500 Islamic militants attacked an Ahmadiyya community in Cikeusik in the province of Banten, West Java, leaving three dead and at least five injured. Video recordings of the incident, which were uploaded to YouTube and subsequently retracted, show dozens of people beating, stoning, and mutilating almost nude corpses.  Three days before the attack, local police were reportedly warned about the possibility of violence, but failed to provide adequate protection. 
“As one of the only vibrant democracies in the region, Indonesia should be at the forefront of protecting human rights and promoting religious freedom and pluralism.  The recent escalation in attacks on religious minorities, particularly the Ahmadiyya, greatly detracts from Indonesia’s reputation as a multi-ethnic, multi-faith country of tolerance,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, senior program manager for International Religious Freedom and SouthEast Asia at Freedom House. “Freedom House is deeply disappointed in today’s verdict as it sends the distressing signal that those who commit acts of religious violence can do so with impunity.”
Attacks against the Ahmadiyya community have risen in recent years against a backdrop of increasingly restrictive legislation targeting them as a community. In 2010, the Indonesian Minister of Religion, Suryadharma Ali, called for the group to be banned outright. In the last year, several provinces have also passed local decrees further limiting the right to practice their faith.  The Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, an Indonesian think tank, estimates that in 2010 there were fifty attacks against the community and in many instances law enforcement failed to provide adequate protection for victims or punish those responsible.
“Attacks like the one that happened in Cikeusik and today’s verdicts send the chilling message that violence and religious hatred are tolerated in Indonesia. The Indonesian authorities must revoke all ministerial decrees and local legislation that target the Ahmadiyya and implement meaningful protections to ensure that all religious minorities can practice their faiths freely and without fear,” concluded Gunawardena-Vaughn.  
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 2011.
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