Jakarta. Human Rights Watch has called on the Indonesian government to immediately intervene to protect members of the Ahmadiyah religious community from intimidation and threats of expulsion by local authorities on Bangka island.
HRW obtained a copy of a letter issued on Jan. 5 from the local government of Bangka district in the province of Bangka-Belitung Islands, demanding the Ahmadiyah community either convert to Sunni Islam or face expulsion from Bangka.
“Bangka officials are conspiring with Muslim groups to unlawfully expel Ahmadiyah community members from their homes,” said Phelim Kine, HRW's deputy Asia director, adding that President Joko Widodo needs to immediately intervene to uphold the Ahmadiyah's rights and to punish officials who advocate religious discrimination.
The Jan. 5 letter was signed by the secretary of Bangka district, Fery Insani, on behalf of Bangka district head Tarmizi Saat. It stated: "If the board of the Ahmadiyah community does not return to Islam, we have agreed that the board should leave Bangka and go back to where they belong."
The Ahmadis identify as Muslims, but their views on the sect's founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), as a prophet or prophet-like figure are considered problematic by most mainstream Islamic organizations, in Indonesia and elsewhere.
Members of Bangka’s Ahmadiyah community, which consists of only 14 families, said the expulsion order followed months of harassment and intimidation by government officials, police officers and representatives of Muslim groups, said the HRW statement, which was issued on Saturday.
HRW said pressure on the Ahmadiyah community members to leave the area began on Dec. 15, when the Bangka district government convened a meeting of 82 people, including 5 Ahmadis, in the government office in Sungailiat town.
At the meeting, several officials and police officers urged the Ahmadiyah to voluntarily leave Bangka as soon as possible, particularly those living in Sungailiat district’s Srimenanti area, where the community has an informal house of worship.
Indonesia’s Ahmadiyah have been under threat since June 2008 when the government of then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree ordering the Ahmadiyah community to “stop spreading interpretations and activities that deviate from the principal teachings of Islam.” Violations of the decree are subject to up to five years of imprisonment.
“President Jokowi should demonstrate his opposition to religious discrimination by standing on the side of Bangka Island’s Ahmadiyah community and acting against those officials trying to deprive them of their rights,” Kine said in the statement, adding that Joko has an opportunity to prove that the Yudhoyono era of turning a blind eye to attacks on religious minorities is finally over.