April 26, 2011 — Updated 0710 GMT (1510 HKT)
“We deployed about 1,095 personnel,” said Senior Commissioner Budiarto, the operations head of the police department in Banten province. Two water cannons and three armored vehicles were also on standby.
Budiarto, like many in Indonesia, go by one name.
Hundreds of people, mostly students from nearby Islamic boarding schools, prayed and chanted outside the courthouse in support of the defendants.
The men are on trial for a February 6 incident in which a mob of about 1,000 people, wielding knives and stones, attacked about 25 members of the Muslim minority sect, Ahmadiyah, in Cikeusik village in the province. Three people were killed and six others injured.
The crowd opposed the presence of the Ahmadiyah in the village and demanded the group stop its activities.
Amateur video of the incident obtained by Human Rights Watch showed people pummeling what looked like lifeless bodies with sticks and rocks. The video has been posted on the Internet, fueling public outrage.
In a televised statement, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the violence against Ahmadiyah and ordered a thorough investigation.
Human rights activists, however, have called on the government to revoke a ministerial decree issued in 2008 that bans the community’s religious activities.
Many Muslims consider the Ahmadiyah a deviation from the orthodox Islamic faith.
Followers of Ahmadiyah believe Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the religious movement in India, was Islam’s last prophet. Orthodox Muslims say Mohammed was the last prophet.
The Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, a local think tank, noted in a recent report a marked increase in the number of attacks against Ahmadiyah and other minority religions in Indonesia in recent years.
The most populous Muslim country in the world, Indonesia has previously been touted as an example of tolerance and democracy in the Islamic world.
But a 2009 study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in Washington suggested it was actually among the most restrictive countries when it comes to religion.
Last week, Human Rights Watch issued a statement, urging authorities to ensure proper security at the trial.
“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,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Witnesses brave enough to testify, as well as judges and prosecutors, should not have to face intimidation.”
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