Posted at 08/02/2011 1:26 PM | Updated as of 08/02/2011 1:26 PM
Ahmadiyah leaders said they feared the worst after a court last week handed down sentences of only a few months in jail to hardliners who killed three sect members in a vicious mob attack.
“The extremists say this is a holy month, everything must be pure and sacred. So we, the Ahmadiyah followers, must be cleared out,” Ahmadiyah spokesman Firdaus Mubarik told AFP.
The sect is unorthodox in that it does not believe Mohammed is the last prophet of Islam. It claims 500,000 followers in Indonesia, where it has existed in relative calm since the 1920s.
Islamic vigilante groups, emboldened by a decree ordering the sect to stop spreading its beliefs in the Muslim-majority country, have recently started targeting the Ahmadiyah in an ugly wave of hate crimes.
“For us, the fasting month doesn’t mean there’ll be peace for us to perform our religious obligations. On the contrary, there are more opportunities for Muslim extremists to mobilize and incite people to attack us,” Mubarik said.
Last year’s holy month saw Ahmadiyah homes and a mosque destroyed by angry mobs, he said.
Days before this year’s Ramadan began on Monday, authorities ordered the Ahmadiyah community in Samarinda city, on Borneo island, to close their mosque following complaints from members of the mainstream Sunni Muslim faith.
Hundreds of hardliners from the Islamic Defenders Front, one of the vigilante groups responsible for the violence, rallied Saturday at the presidential palace in Jakarta demanding Ahmadiyah be outlawed altogether.
Harassment, persecution and violence against minorities, especially the Ahmadiyah, have become more frequent under the leadership of twice-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, analysts say.
The latest outrage, according to local and international human rights groups, was the slap on the wrist given to the ringleaders of February’s deadly mob frenzy against Ahmadiyah followers in Cikeusik village, western Java.
Around 1,500 enraged extremists descended on a house occupied by a handful of Ahmadiyah defenders, brushed aside the police and proceeded to stone, beat and hack their victims to death before destroying the property.
The unprovoked attack was filmed by an Ahmadiyah member who is now in hiding under police protection, providing graphic evidence of the crimes.
Yet prosecutors claimed the sect provoked the violence by refusing to abandon their property to the mob. The state did not charge any of the perpetrators with murder; instead it produced what Human Rights Watch described as an “almost laughable” list of minor infringements.
Dani bin Misra, a 17-year-old who was caught on film repeatedly smashing a victim’s skull with a stone, was sentenced to three months in jail for assault causing death, public incitement and destruction of property.
Idris bin Mahdani, who led the mob, was convicted of illegal possession of a machete and received five months and 15 days in jail.
The United States and the European Union expressed strong misgivings but Yudhoyono has said nothing about the sentences, raising questions over his oft-repeated commitment to pluralism and the rule of law.
“We’re in a state of emergency regarding freedom of religion,” Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace activist Hendardi told AFP.
“Last week’s court ruling not only failed to give a deterrent effect to the offenders but will encourage the violators to carry out more attacks against minorities in the coming days.”
Religious affairs ministry spokesman Zubaidi said the sentences were the result of a fair trial, and rejected allegations that the police had failed to properly investigate the crimes.
“As an executive body, we cannot interfere in the legal system… Whether the sentences are light or harsh, how it’s perceived is relative,” he said.