SBY Urged to Axe Religion Minister for Discrimination

JAKARTA

Human rights activists urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Tuesday to sack his religious affairs minister and to lift a ban on a minority Islamic group practising in public.

Some provincial administrations in the country have issued local decrees prohibiting members of the Ahmadiyah sect from displaying signs identifying their mosques and schools.

The provincial regulations came into force after Islamist fanatics brutally murdered three Ahmadiyah adherents in early February. Two days later another mob of enraged Muslims rampaged through the streets and set fire to churches.

“Repeated calls by Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali to ban Ahmadiyah fan the flames of violence against the group,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said in a statement.

“President Yudhoyono should signal that such discrimination has no place in a society that promotes religious tolerance and remove Suryadharma Ali from his post,” he added.

A video of one of the attacks shows hundreds of Muslim fanatics armed with machetes, sticks and rocks screaming “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) as they set upon their victims in a wild frenzy.

Police failed to intervene to protect Ahmadiyah members, who have been subjected to regular abuse and persecution since their sect was slapped with restrictions at the urging of mainstream Muslims in 2008.

“Indonesian national and provincial authorities risk being complicit in anti-Ahmadiyah violence by stripping this religious community of their basic rights,” Robertson said.

“These decrees place officials on the side of militants who increasingly have been carrying out attacks on the Ahmadiyah,” he added.

Indonesian human rights group Imparsial said on Tuesday they had recorded 56 intimidation cases involving the military in West Java province in which soldiers pressured the sect followers to embrace Islam.

“As soon as the decree went into effect, they deployed soldiers to take down the number of Ahmadiyah followers in several villages in West Java,” the group’s program director Al Araf told AFP.

“They entered the mosques, gathered the Ahmadiyah members and forced them to repent and convert to Islam. This operation is quite massive across West Java province,” he said.

Ahmadiyah differs from orthodox Muslims in it does not believe Mohammed was the last prophet.

Yudhoyono condemned last month’s attacks but defended a 2008 law banning Ahmadiyah from spreading their faith, which is used by hardliners to justify attacks on the sect.

Human rights activists say the ex-general has repeatedly failed to tackle sources of intolerance in the country of 240 million people, 80 percent of whom are Muslim.

Indonesia’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion but rights groups say violence against minorities including Christians and Ahmadis has been escalating since 2008.

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