More than 1,000 troops and police backed by water cannon and armoured vehicles threw a security cordon around the court in Serang, west Java, amid fears of further violence from the defendants’ radical supporters.
Around 2,000 people held a mass prayer and chanted Koranic verses in a show of solidarity with the accused, who could face between 12 years in jail and death if convicted.
The indictment accuses the male defendants of crimes including “inciting violence” but not murder, even though a graphic video of the slayings has been widely distributed on the Internet.
Islamic fanatics brutally murdered three members of the Ahmadiyah sect in west Java’s Banten province in February, one of the most horrific in a long line of attacks on the sect in Indonesia in recent years.
Ahmadiyah, unlike mainstream Muslims, do not believe Mohammed was the last prophet (**) and are regarded as heretics and blasphemers by conservatives in places like Indonesia and Pakistan.
A video taken by a sect member showed the crowd of more than 1,000 people push police aside and storm a local Ahmadiyah leader’s house shouting “infidel” and “Allahu akbar” (God is greater).
After a brief exchange of rocks, the mob overpowered the defenders and set upon them with sticks and stones. One man was filmed being stoned and clubbed to death as he knelt on the ground half naked. The bodies were then mutilated.
Police officers fled the scene once the violence began, but returned later to mill among the mob as it destroyed the sect’s property and continued to beat the corpses of the three male victims.
A cleric, Ujang Mohammed Arif, 52, is charged with masterminding the attack by inciting others to commit violence.
Arif sent another defendant, Endang bin Sidik, a phone text message days before the attack reading “please mobilise ulemas (Muslim scholars), clerics and Koranic school students to besiege Ahmadis in Cikeusik (village),“ prosecutors said.
Endang forwarded the message to 62 people and asked them to gather at his house and wear blue ribbons on the day of the assault.
Two of the accused could face the death penalty if convicted of carrying sharp weapons under a 1951 emergency law. The law has traditionally been used against suspected separatist rebels, analysts say.
Human rights groups have said the trial is a chance for Indonesia to roll back a long-standing culture of impunity for religious violence by the dominant Muslim community against minorities such as Ahmadiyah and Christians.
“For the Cikeusik trial to be a step toward ending religious violence in Indonesia, the police need to ensure the security of everyone in the courtroom,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Elaine Pearson said last week.
“Witnesses brave enough to testify, as well as judges and prosecutors, should not have to face intimidation.”
A 2008 decree restricted the Ahmadiyah’s religious freedoms but stopped short of banning the sect outright. Even so, senior government officials say the Ahmadiyah should accept mainstream Sunni Islam or renounce their faith.
The sect claims 500,000 followers in Indonesia, where it has existed in relative peace since the 1920s.
Rights groups say violence against minorities has been escalating in Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country – during the tenure of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.