Eight Questioned over Deadly Religious Clash

JAKARTA

Police are questioning eight people involved in a bloody religious clash that claimed three lives at the weekend.

The incident, involving more than 1,000 Muslims who stormed a house in West Java on Sunday to stop the minority Ahmadiyah Islamic sect from holding worship, has been condemned by the government and rights activists.

National police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar said on Monday eight people are being questioned and investigations are ongoing, but police have yet to lay charges.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has instructed police to take firm action against the perpetrators, “to capture them and take them to court if need be,” his senior adviser, Daniel Sparingga, said.

“The president is deeply concerned and condemned the violence and said that the country must be firm in defending the constitution, that would never allow small groups to use religion to attack groups of different faiths,” he said.

The constitution explicitly guarantees freedom of religion and the country of some 240 million people, 80 percent of whom are Muslim, has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

But a government decree adopted in 2008 under pressure from Islamic conservatives bans the Ahmadiyah sect from spreading its faith, which includes the belief that its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the final Muslim prophet.

The group, which claims hundreds of thousands of members in Indonesia, has been repeatedly targeted with violence by members of hardline Islamic extremist organisations who operate with almost total impunity.

National Human Rights Commission chairman Ifdhal Kasim said Sunday’s incident was “embarrassing” as the police had made no effort to stop the mob.

“The police are biased and ignored their ultimate responsibility, which is to protect the people,” he said.

“The government has no right to make judgments on whether a religion is heretical or not. Its job is to protect the people.”

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