The district court in Serang, Banten’s capital, cleared the defendants of the primary charge of inciting hatred and mob violence, but found them guilty of “participation in a violent attack that resulted in casualties.”
The court handed down sentences of between three and six months in jail for each of the men, even though the charge of which they were found guilty carries a jail term of up to seven years.
In all of the verdicts — read in separate hearings — the panel of judges maintained the same notion that it was the Ahmadiyah group the instigated the attack by ignoring calls by police to leave the scene and instead challenging the mob to a fight.
“The defendants did not know the victims and they just followed the crowd that was made up of thousands of people,” judge Cipta Sinuraya said.
The judges said the defendants’ actions had been spontaneous, “triggered by a situation after negotiations between Ahmadiyah members and the crowd collapsed, and that there was no conspiracy or collusion to commit murder.”
The defendants were mainly local villagers and students from Muslim boarding schools who joined the mob in the Feb. 6 attack on a group of Ahmadis who gathered at the home of an Ahmadiyah leader in Cikeusik, about 95 kilometers from Serang.
Three Ahmadis died and five were seriously injured in the attack, which was widely condemned by both local and international human rights organizations.
On Thursday, many of the same organizations expressed grave disappointment, with the Human Rights Watch saying it was a “sad day for Indonesia.”
“The way this investigation and trial was conducted is just appalling. Despite clear video evidence of people being beaten to death, the longest sentence is six months,” Elaine Pearson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, told the Jakarta Globe.
“It sets a new low for Indonesia’s justice system.”
The US Embassy expressed its disappointment at the “disproportionately light sentences,” and encouraged Indonesia “to defend its tradition of tolerance for all religions, a tradition praised by President [Barack] Obama in his November 2010 visit to Jakarta.”
The European Union reminded Indonesia about “the need to ensure that religious and other minorities are adequately protected by the justice and law enforcement systems, including through sufficiently dissuasive penalties for acts of violence directed against such minorities.”
Rumadi, a senior researcher from the Wahid Institute, feared the court ruling would set a dangerous precedent. “Now they can say you can be violent, you can kill, as long as you use religion as the motive — then you can get off with a light sentence,” he said. “And for those who want to protect their property, watch out: you can be criminalized.”
Some of the defendants were released because they have already served their sentences in detention, which began in February.
Endang Sujana, a member of the defense team, said it was still considering an appeal. “We are certainly fighting for their acquittal,” he said.