March 18, 2011
Firdaus Mubarik, a spokesman for the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI), told the Jakarta Globe that around 50 Ahmadis in the West Java districts of Tasikmalaya, Subang, Bogor and Cirebon were prepared to testify that they had been intimidated by soldiers, state officials and the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) to convert to mainstream Islam.
Nurkholis Hidayat, director of the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH), said his office would then use the testimonies to counter the military’s claims that it was not behind the conversions. “All this time they’ve been rebutting our claims, so let’s hear what the victims have to say,” he said.
Reports have emerged over the past week of soldiers visiting Ahmadiyah communities and forcing the members, whose high regard for sect founder Mirza Gulam Ahmad contradicts mainstream Muslims’ belief that Muhammad was the last prophet, to sign statements renouncing their faith.
This comes in the wake of a spate of attacks against the sect by Muslim groups and residents.
However, the government denied forced conversions had occurred, saying the military was acting to protect the sect from violence at the hands of Muslim hard-liners.
On Thursday, rights group Amnesty International urged the government to investigate the allegations of intimidation by the military.
“The Ahmadiyah community is facing increasing restrictions, intimidation and attacks because of their beliefs,” said Josef Roy Benedict, the group’s Indonesia and East Timor campaigner.
Soldiers have entered mosques, gathered followers of the sect and “forced them to repent and convert to Islam,” the group said.
Amnesty called on the authorities “to conduct prompt, independent and impartial investigations” into all reports of intimidation and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Pressure for the government to end the persecution of the sect has also come from the US House of Representatives.
In an open letter addressed to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and dated Tuesday, a group of 27 US congressmen and women called for legislation discriminating against Ahmadiyah followers to be repealed.
The letter highlighted regional decrees issued in West Java and East Java banning Ahmadiyah members from practicing their faith openly and a 2008 joint ministerial decree limiting their activities.
“Since the 2008 decree banning many significant [Ahmadiyah] activities, violence against the religious minority has steadily escalated,” the letter read. “Not only do the decrees recently issued in East and West Java run contrary to the principles of international human rights, but we also fear that they will only serve to embolden extremists and exacerbate violence against the Ahmadiyah community.”
The letter cited the brutal Feb. 6 attack on Ahmadis in Cikeusik village, Banten, where three Ahmadiyah followers were beaten to death.
The US lawmakers also called for the scrapping of the 1965 Blasphemy Law, which was at the center of an anti-Christian attack in Temanggung, Central Java, shortly after the Cikeusik incident.
Among those who signed the letter were Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the House, and Barney Frank, an openly gay congressman.
Human Rights Watch also condemned violence against the group and urged Yudhoyono to fire Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali — who heads the conservative Islam-based United Development Party (PPP) — for discrimination and to lift the curbs on Ahmadiyah.
Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi rejected the congressmen and women’s request to revoke the joint ministerial decree, saying “deep analysis” of the matter was still needed.
He said there was nothing wrong with the decree, which has consistently been used by hard-liners as justification for attacking Ahmadiyah members.
For his part, Suryadharma said he would have to study the letter first before he could make any decision on revoking the decree.
“I’ll read it first,” he said.
“But every nation has interests that might be different from those of other nations.”