Five Face Trial over Mosque Burning

JAKARTA ~ Five men will face trial over the burning down of a mosque belonging to a minority Islamic sect that has been branded as “deviant” by Indonesian religious authorities, police said.

Sukabumi Police chief Guntor Gaffar confirmed that five people had been declared suspects, a status that means they will stand trial.

They were allegedly involved in an arson attack on a mosque belonging to the Ahmadiyah sect at Parakan Salak, in the West Java district of Sukabumi, just after midnight on Sunday night.

The mosque was set alight by an angry mob reportedly led by members of the Jamiatul Mubalighin Communication Forum, a gathering of Muslim preachers.

Gaffar said the suspects would face charges of destruction and arson, but gave no further details. The accused were not currently in police custody but religious leaders had guaranteed their appearance in court.

“It is true they have been declared as suspects,” Gaffar said on Tuesday.

National Police spokesman Abubakar Nataprawira said the men could be charged with damaging religious sites, an offence that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.

Nobody was injured in the violence which involved hundreds of people from neighboring villages. A school was also vandalized.

The attack has been condemned by human rights monitors as a serious violation of religious freedom in the world’s most populous Muslim country.

An interdepartmental advisory body which monitors religious groups earlier this month recommended the government ban the sect due to its unorthodox Islamic beliefs.

The government has yet to make a decision on the case, raising heckles from human rights activists who called Monday for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to reject the proposed ban.

“We urge President Yudhoyono to take an immediate decision to guarantee and protect freedom of religion as mentioned in the Indonesian constitution,” Usman Hamid from human rights group Kontras told reporters.

“The attacks cannot be separated from Bakor Pakem’s decision,” he added, referring to the advisory body.

“The president has to dismiss Bakor Pakem’s recommendation,” said Ahmad Suaedy, executive director of think-tank the Wahid Institute.

Ahmadiyah claims more than 200,000 members in Indonesia, where it has been established since the 1920s.

It believes Mohammed was not the final Muslim prophet, contradicting a central tenet of mainstream Islam. Despite its minority beliefs it forms the majority of the population in some parts of West Sumatra and Lombok.

Muslims make up nearly 90 percent of the Indonesian population.

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