Jakarta. International human rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch urged President Joko Widodo’s administration to lift a ban on the Ahmadiyah religious community placed by local authorities in Subang, West Java.
The New York-based watchdog said Subang district officials and Muslim clerics issued a letter that bans all Ahmadiyah activities in Central Subang on Jan. 29. The following day, they placed a banner outside the Ahmadiyah mosque stating that it was closed.
The three-page letter was signed by Tatang Supriyatna, head of Subang district, five other local officials and four Muslim clerics who support the ban. The Subang guarantors include its police chief, the district Indonesian Military (TNI) commander, the local Religious Affairs Ministry representative and the chief of Sukamelang village, where many Ahmadiyah live.
Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the Subang officials who tried to prevent the Ahmadiyah community from practicing their faith seem oblivious to religious freedom.
“Indonesian officials should be at the forefront of defending rights protected under the constitution and international law, not issuing unlawful prohibitions that undermine them,” Kine said in a statement received on Thursday (11/02).
The 400-member Ahmadiyah community in Subang has been a target of official harassment and intimidation since October last year, the HRW said. The construction of an Ahmadiyah mosque in Sukamelang village is currently sought to be stopped due to lack of permit, which the Ahmadis claimed had a valid construction permit issued in 2004.
According to HRW, the recent intimidation occurred on Jan. 16, when a neighborhood leader, Amir Syaripudin, accused the Ahmadiyah in a letter to the Sukamelang village chief of “blasphemy against Islam” and implied that there could be violence against the Ahmadiyah unless the local government curbed their activities.
The Subang district chief Tatang Supriyatna responded by convening a meeting on Jan. 29 with the leaders of the Ahmadiyah community and local government and security officials, pressuring the community “to disband” and to convert to Sunni Islam.
The following day, Supriyatna had a banner placed outside the Ahmadiyah mosque that says the property is officially “Closed/Banned” and lists the names of the 10 officials and clerics who support the ban.
“Jokowi needs to demonstrate the political will to protect the rights of religious minorities by both taking action against officials who seek to deny those rights and repealing discriminatory legislation, “ Kine said, adding that Jokowi’s silence is giving free rein to people abusing the Ahmadiyah.
The harassment and intimidation of the Ahmadiyah in Subang coincides with similar persecution on Bangka Island, where the local government’s threat of expulsion prompted the police on Feb. 5 to evacuate the community’s women and children due to fears of violence.
Indonesia’s Ahmadiyah have been under threat since June 2008, when the government of then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a national decree ordering the Ahmadiyah community to “stop spreading interpretations and activities that deviate from the principal teachings of Islam.”
Violators are subject to up to five years in prison.
The Ahmadiyah have long suffered persecution in Indonesia. They identify themselves as Muslims, but differ in opinion on whether Muhammad was the “final” monotheist prophet. Consequently, some Muslims perceive the Ahmadiyah as heretics.