Shiites in Bogor, Bandung Face Hard-Line Pressure Ahead of Ashura


OCTOBER 24, 2015

Bogor. Mayor Bima Arya Sugiarto of Bogor has banned Shiites in the West Java city from commemorating Ashura this Sunday, citing security concerns, as Shiites in Bandung were forced by hard-liners to cut short a similar event on Friday.

A spokesman for the Bogor city administration on Saturday confirmed that the mayor had issued a decree on the matter on Thursday.

"With an eye to the security and public order in Bogor, the mayor believed it was necessary to issue a decree," spokesman Encep Moh Ali Alhamidi said on Saturday.

On Ashura, the tenth day of the Islamic month Muharram, Shiite Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who was killed in the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq, in the year 680.

Shiites had been planning to hold their main Ashura ceremony in Cibalagung, in West Bogor subdistrict, on Sunday.

In various parts of Indonesia in recent years, Shiite Muslims have been the victim of harassment, violence and persecution by groups of hard-line Sunnis, who make up the majority of Muslims in Indonesia.

Earlier this week, an anti-Shiite mob attacked a shelter for asylum seekers in Yogyakarta over concerns that proselytization was taking place there.

'Defending' Sunni Islam

Meanwhile, in the West Java capital of Bandung on Friday night, a group of some 120 people claiming to be "defending" the dominant Sunni interpretation of the faith interrupted an Ashura celebration at the Sidolig sports stadium, forcing an early end to the event attended by thousands of people.

The event, which started at 7 p.m., was guarded by 1,000 police officers but the group of hard-liners, who arrived on motorcycles at around 8:30 p.m., still managed to disturb the celebration.

The anti-Shiite activists were carrying banners with slogans like "Shiites Are a Threat to NKRI," referring to the unitary Indonesian nation-state.

Police prevented the hard-liners from entering, but Shiites had to be escorted out of the stadium, apparently to prevent a clash.

It was not immediately clear why the massive police force didn't prevent the activists from disturbing the event, but the head of the Bandung city police, Sr. Comr. Angesta Romano Yoyol, said the important thing was that everybody was safe.

"Our duty was to ensure security," he said. "We had prepared a thousand officers."

Not far from the Sidolig stadium, young residents of Bandung on Friday held a festival dedicated to religious tolerance, with book discussions and art presentations.

Organizers said the event was necessary to counter increasingly intolerant attitudes they said were taking hold in society.

No support for Sampang Shiites 

In June this year, a coalition of rights groups urged President Joko Widodo to stay true to his campaign promises to protect minority groups and ensure the safe return of a Shiite community to their home village on East Java's Madura island, nearly three years after their forced eviction.

The joint statement was issued by Amnesty International, the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), Paramadina University’s Center for the Study of Religion and Democracy and the Indonesian chapter of the Asian Muslim Action Network, and criticized the government’s lack of action to allow at least 300 members of the displaced Shiite Muslim community to return safely to their home village in Sampang district, Madura.

They were forced to abandon their homes after an anti-Shiite mob attacked their village in August 2012, with their leader Tajul Muluk convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to four years' imprisonment.