Asia Rights

Journal of Human Rights, Media and Society in Asia and the Pacific

Violence against Indonesia’s religious minorities surges

By Thin Lei Win

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BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Violence against religious minorities surged in Indonesia in 2011, with authorities standing aside and failing to uphold the rule of law as Islamist mobs attacked Christians and Ahmadis, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its annual report on the country.

The report, part of a larger HRW publication monitoring human rights in more than 90 countries, also said violence continued to rack Papua and West Papua. The report said the authorities used excessive force against peaceful protesters in these Indonesian provinces, where a low-level separatist insurgency has been going on for decades.

Elaine Pearson, the group’s deputy Asia director, said attacks on religious minorities and police violence in Papua “got a lot worse in 2011.”

“The common thread is the failure of the Indonesian government to protect the rights of all its citizens,” she said.

The report said senior government officials, including Minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali, Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi, and Minister of Human Rights and Law Patrialis Akbar, “continued to justify restrictions on religious freedom in the name of public order.”

Incidents of sectarian violence “got more deadly and more frequent” last year, with 184 cases of religious attacks in the first nine months of 2011, the rights group said. Churches as well as Ahmadi mosques and communities in various places came under assault.

The Ahmadis are followers of a minority Ahmadiyya sect founded in the 19th century. They believe there have been other prophets of Islam since its founder Mohammad, although he is regarded as the most important. Mainstream Muslims consider them heretical, and Ahmadis face increasing threats of violence in many countries including Pakistan and Indonesia.

“Short prison terms for a handful of offenders did nothing to dissuade mob violence,” the report added, pointing to the February incident in western Java when some three Ahmadis were killed and five injured when some 1,500 Islamic militants attacked a house.

The event was caught on film – police officers were shown watching as the mob wreaked havoc – but only 12 men were charged, and none for manslaughter. One of the Ahmadis injured in the attack was later convicted of assault and disobeying police orders.


The report also said the country’s military and police continue to commit rights abuses against civilians, especially in Papua, where access is almost impossible for foreigners.

Few journalists and rights researchers can visit the two provinces on the west half of New Guinea island that belong to Indonesia, which took over the area from Dutch colonial rule in 1963.

“Impunity for members of Indonesia’s security forces remains a serious concern, with no civilian jurisdiction over soldiers who commit serious human rights abuses,” HRW said.

“Military tribunals are held rarely, lack transparency, and the charges frequently fail to reflect the seriousness of the abuses committed.”

In January, a military tribunal in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, convicted three soldiers from Battalion 753 for brutally torturing two Papuans.

Despite video evidence of the involvement of six soldiers, the tribunal tried only three, and on “lesser military discipline charges rather than for torture,” the rights group said.

They were sentenced to between eight and 12 months in prison but have not been discharged, it added.

(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)

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