Jakarta. Members of the Ahmadiyah community in Indonesia continue to be discriminated against and religious leaders say a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach is needed to address persecution against the group.
"In general, the marginalization and stigmatization of Ahmadiyah groups have evolved into acts of discrimination," said Yendra Budiana, spokesman for Jemaat Ahmadiyah Indonesia (JAI).
"Our beliefs are now criminalized and a cause for persecution.”
Members of the Ahmadiyah, an Islamic religious movement deemed heretical by Indonesia’s Sunni majority, have faced increased hostility in recent weeks, with a number of local communities being targeted across Java.
The closure of an Ahmadiyah mosque in Bukit Duri, South Jakarta by local officials on July 8 ingnited a firestorm of controversy, launching anti-Ahmadiyah activities into the national spotlight.
“It’s become very difficult for Ahmadiyah communities in Indonesia to follow through on their religious beliefs, especially as violence and intimidation continue against them,” said Febi Yonesta, director of the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH).
“They’re victims of intolerant acts from communities that do not approve of their existence here in Indonesia.”
As hardline extremists groups like the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI) and the Islamic People’s Front (FUI) have become more vocal, persecution against Ahmadis has increased in recent years.
The Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace recorded 11 cases of violence and intolerance against Ahmadiyah groups in 2014.
A quarterly report issued by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), which looked at religious freedom for the April to June period this year, noted multiple incidents of discrimination against Ahmadiyah groups, specifically in Bukit Duri and Depok.
“There is cause for concern here because the problem still hasn’t been solved,” said Zuhairi Misrawi, director of the Moderate Muslim Society.
“In these cases, the government has not been able to provide enough protection and support for the Ahmadis in their pursuit of their right to worship."
Information from the Association of Religion Data Archives indicates that there are an estimated 400,000 Ahmadi Muslims in Indonesia, with some communities dating as far back as the 1920s.
Violence and intolerance
“Attacks against Ahmadis occur in many places, the most severe and frequent of which happen in West Java,” said Yendra, of the JAI.
Recent incidents and disputes have centered on access to places of worship, as members of the minority group find themselves unable to properly conduct their religious rites.
“Many Ahmadiyah mosques have been sealed and closed, sometimes even by police lines,” Febi said on Wednesday. “Moreover, there are also mosques that have faced difficulties in obtaining land permits because of discrimination by local officials.”
According to Yendra, local leaders have been unable to remain impartial in handling cases involving Ahmadiyah groups, resulting in discriminatory action.
“All government officials must take a strong stance as public officials in working to resolve these conflicts. They must be able to distinguish between their duties as officials, and their own personal belief systems,” Yendra said.
Beyond the closure of mosques, members of the Ahmadiyah community also face considerable obstacles in accessing key social benefits.
According to the JAI, Ahmadi Muslims in Kuningan, West Java have found themselves unable to obtain proper marriage licenses, while authorities in the Manislor district have halted the issuance of identity cards (KTP) to followers.
Ahmadi Muslims often face discrimination in the workplace, Yendra said.
"If an Ahmadi Muslim has a career in the bureaucracy, they cannot hope to attain a high position because of the obstacles that exist as a result of their beliefs," Yendra said.
“We are also seeing significant pressure against Ahmadiyah students and teachers in schools."
Zuhairi said although there was increasing awareness of discrimination against the Ahmadiyah community in Indonesia, he noted followers were treated better than in other countries.
“We should remember that the status of the Ahmadiyah in Indonesia is still much better than conditions in other countries,” Zuhairi said.
“In Pakistan, government ordinance bar Ahmadiyah communities from even calling themselves Muslims.”
Ahmadiyah groups, which trace their origins to British India in the late 19th century, have experienced persecution and hardship across the globe, in part because their beliefs differ from mainstream Islam.
Ahmadi leaders say a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach is needed in order to address persecution.
“First, there must be a firm crackdown by the police against anarchist groups and preachers of hate who act in the name of religion," Yendra said. “The police must be fair, without hesitation, in providing protection to all communities.”
Zuhairi concurred, noting that “the government must strengthen its law enforcement, particularly against extremist groups who seek to harm minorities.”
“We need to work harder in strengthening the proper enforcement of law,” he added.
Calls to strengthen law enforcement against discriminatory acts come in the wake of controversial statements from the National Police acknowledging weak police presence in combating religious intolerance, due to a lack of incentive to take action among officials
Sr. Comr. John Hendri of the National Police said: "The truth is that police officers who see, hear or experience such incidents can file a report for subsequent investigation, but tend to be scared to do so because there’s no reward or guarantee of safety for themselves.”
Protecting the rights of the Ahmadiyah community in Indonesia would also require a comprehensive review of existing law, experts say.
“We have to repeal the 2008 Joint Decree of the Minister of Religious Affairs, the Attorney General and the Minister of the Interior that addresses the status of Ahmadiyah communities in Indonesia,” said the LBH’s Febi.
“It has granted legitimacy to discriminatory acts against the Ahmadiyah,” he added.
Although the 2008 Joint Decree recognizes the right to freedom of religion for the Ahmadi Muslims, it maintains strict controls on the spread of their religious views.
Conservative groups have since used this clause as justification for attacks on minority communities, with dubious claims as to whether any proselytization has occurred.
“These frameworks have both become triggers for conflict among Indonesians,” said Yendra.
Indonesia’s method of granting official recognition to a select few religions was a cause for discrimination , according to Zuhairi.
“Although Indonesia is said to be a plural nation, the state only recognizes six religions. This is in spite of the fact that there are many different types of religions and beliefs here in Indonesia,” Zuhairi said.
The recent attacks on Ahmadiyah communities have elicited a strong reaction from Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who has been the target of intolerance and discrimination himself by hardline groups for being a Christian.
“I’ve already talked to local leaders; I’ve told them about city regulations," Basuki was quoted as saying by news portal Inilah.com on July 11.
"I said, places of worship should be closed if they have been around for years, as long as they do not cause disturbance."
Basuki has since doubled down on his support of the Ahmadiyah community, pledging protection for those in Jakarta who wish to worship at members’ homes instead of mosques.
“We’ll let them get around the zoning restrictions so that their houses may be used as places of worship,” Basuki said last week.
According to observers, violence against the Ahmadiyah community strikes deeply at the heart of Indonesia’s stability as a pluralistic and multicultural society.
"The government needs to facilitate better dialogue between religions and cultural groups in Indonesia," said JAI spokesperson Yendra.
“This sort of dialogue is necessary to protect the country’s belief in Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” he added, referring to the Indonesian national motto of unity in diversity.
Meanwhile, Zuhairi advocates for a return to a culture of “gotong royong," referring to traditional Indonesian values of mutual benefit and communal cooperation.
“Despite our differences, we must not threaten or harm others. If we work together, we can build a strong and united Indonesia.”
“We all need to take an active role in establishing a sense of brotherhood in Indonesia, among people of different beliefs,” Zuhairi concluded.