Members of the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, a group that advocates for pluralism and freedom of worship, said they were participating in the discussion at a coffee shop in the Inna Simpang Hotel with groups including Surabaya Legal Aid and members of the minority Ahmadiyah sect.
They said the meeting was disrupted by dozens of members of a group calling itself the Warring Defenders of Islam (LPI).
Setara activists said Sasmito, a man identifying himself as the head of the LPI, told the attendees the discussion was illegal and would have to be disbanded.
Shortly afterward, the activists said, Surabaya Police arrived and conferred with the LPI, after which the hard-liners left.
The tolerance discussion resumed, but police returned and ordered an end to the gathering, Setara members said.
“We request that you stop with this discussion, because you have not informed us that you were going to hold it,” a police officer said, according to Setara official Bonar Tigor Naipospos.
Bonar said he demanded police tell them what law required police permission to hold a meeting.
“This was no demonstration which requires a permit. This was a meeting involving 15 people at a hotel. Why were we stopped from meeting?” Bonar told the Jakarta Globe.
He said police told him the meeting could pose a security risk because it was held not far from a building where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono would be staying during a working visit.
“This was a fabricated reason,” Bonar said.
“Yudhoyono’s visit anywhere would have extraordinary security. This was just a discussion.” He added that organizers had sent a text message to East Java Police Chief Insp. Gen. Badrodin Haiti informing him of the meeting, but that he hadn’t responded.
“We did not meet to conduct anarchic activities or to attack the country,” Bonar said.
“We met here to find a resolution for an ongoing problem. To find a resolution we must listen to all parties involved. This was meant to be positive.”
Members of the gathering said they believed that the hard-liners were connected to the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a fundamentalist group known for forcibly imposing their religious views on others.
Setara Institute founder Hendardi on Thursday said he condemned the police’s failure in stopping hard-liners from disrupting human rights discussions.
“This is a clear threat to our constitutional rights to freely express our opinion,” he said.
“Police in the regions can no longer be separated from radical Islamic organizations, who continue to persecute and intimidate minority communities, including those organizations that fight for the rights of these communities.”