The sentences handed down last month to 12 defendants over a deadly lynch mob attack on members of the Ahmadiyah community in February shocked human rights groups and drew criticism from the United States and the European Union.
But in his first public response to the outrage, Natalegawa defended the independence of Indonesia’s courts and said the mainly Muslim archipelago was not the only country to suffer from religious intolerance.
“There is an obvious delineation between the executive, the judiciary and legislative branches,” he said in response to a reporter’s question.
The Cambridge-educated minister said “heinous acts” were being committed all over the world due to religious intolerance, but he did not address concerns that light sentences for hate crimes only encourage more killings.
“I’m afraid when you speak of the whole issue of religious intolerance and all kinds of phobia … Indonesia doesn’t have a monopoly on that unfortunately,” he said.
A secretly filmed video of the rampage in Cikeusik, western Java, sparked international concern when it appeared online within days of the attack.
The footage shows police fleeing the scene as the enraged mob – armed with machetes and knives and shouting abuse at the “infidels” – launch an unprovoked attack on a house owned by an Ahmadiyah follower.
A handful of Ahmadiyah men tried to defend the property with stones and slingshots but they were quickly overwhelmed.
The mob then clubbed, hacked and stoned three defenseless men to death in front of police, and stood around joking over their bodies. Several Ahmadiyah tried to flee but were hunted down and badly beaten.
None of the 12 men punished over the incident was charged with murder, and none received more than six months in jail, including the ringleader and a 17-year-old who was filmed smashing a victim’s skull with a stone.
Prosecutors managed to convince the court that the video and the victims’ refusal to flee the property justified a reduced sentence for the killers. In the end the sentences were even lighter than requested by the state.
Ahmadiyah, unlike mainstream Muslims, do not believe Mohammed was the last prophet and are regarded as heretics and blasphemers by conservatives in countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan.