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Fair Proceedings and Witness Protection Critical for Improving Minority Rights

April 19, 2011

A still shot from a video showing the assault of Ahmadiyah muslims by a group of
assailants in Banten province in Western Java on Sunday, January 6. Source: Pri
vateFor the Cikeusik trial to be a step toward ending religious violence in Indo
nesia, the police need to ensure the security of everyone in the courtroom. Witn
esses brave enough to testify, as well as judges and prosecutors, should not hav
e to face intimidation.
Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch
UPDATE: The opening of the trial has now been postponed to April 26.
(New York) - Indonesian authorities should ensure the safety of all those attend
ing the trial of 11 men charged in the deadly February 2011 attacks on the Ahmad
iyah community in the village of Cikeusik in western Java, Human Rights Watch sa
id today. Human Rights Watch said that the trial, which begins April 21, in Sera
ng district, Banten province, can help reduce anti-Ahmadiyah violence in the cou
ntry if it meets international fair trial standards and provides full protection
for victims, witnesses, and court officials.
Longstanding impunity for religious violence in Indonesia has fostered larger an
d more brutal attacks by Islamist militants against religious minorities, and ma
y have contributed to an April 15 suicide bombing of a police mosque in Cirebon,
West Java province, Human Rights Watch said.
“For the Cikeusik trial to be a step toward ending religious violence in Indonesia
, the police need to ensure the security of everyone in the courtroom,” said Elain
e Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Witnesses brave enough to
testify, as well as judges and prosecutors, should not have to face intimidation
On February 6, a mob of about 1,500 people attacked 21 members of the Ahmadiyah
religious community in Cikeusik, in Banten province, killing three people and se
riously wounding five others. About 30 police officers were present but did litt
le to stop the attack. A videographer recorded the violence, and the video was l
ater posted by various individuals and organizations on YouTube. Since the attac
k, Ahmadiyah members in the village have found it difficult to return home due t
o tension and continued harassment from government officials and other villagers
. Only an Ahmadiyah widow and her daughter remain in the village; others have mo
ved to larger cities.
Few cases of violence against religious minorities reach trial in Indonesia, and
such trials on Java, Indonesia’s majority-Muslim main island, have often been dis
rupted by Islamist militant threats and violence.
In a trial that began in January in Bogor district court regarding an October 20
10 attack on an Ahmadiyah mosque in Cisalada village, more than 1,000 Islamist m
ilitants attended the hearings at times. Over the course of the trial, they thre
atened and harassed witnesses, judges, and prosecutors both in and outside the c
ourtroom. On April 14, three defendants were found guilty of attacking the Ahmad
iyah mosque and sentenced to prison terms of between four and six months; prosec
utors had sought nine-month sentences.
In 2008, numerous activists from the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) attended the t
rial of an FPI member charged with violence at a June 2008 interfaith rally supp
orting the Ahmadiyah at the National Monument (Monas) in Jakarta. A witness said
FPI members assaulted her outside the courtroom.
Human Rights Watch called on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to review the in
creasing violence against religious and other minorities in Indonesia, and to re
voke national and provincial decrees that ban Ahmadiyah practices. Over the past
three years, there have been more than 180 anti-Ahmadiyah attacks, according to
the Setara Institute, a nongovernmental group that monitors religious freedom.
A June 2008 national decree requires the Ahmadiyah to “stop spreading interpretati
ons and activities that deviate from the principal teachings of Islam,” including “s
preading the belief that there is another prophet with his own teachings after P
rophet Muhammad.” Violations of the decree can result in prison sentences of up to
five years.
The Ahmadiyah identify themselves as Muslims but differ with other Muslims as to
whether Muhammad was the “final” monotheist prophet. Consequently, some Muslims per
ceive the Ahmadiyah as heretics.
On April 15, 2011, a suicide bomber, Mochamad Syarif, detonated a bomb at the mo
sque in the Cirebon police precinct, West Java, leaving 26 wounded. Syarif had b
een previously implicated in anti-Ahmadiyah attacks in Manis Lor, West Java, in
July 2010, and harassing witnesses in a religious trial on blasphemy in Cirebon
in 2010. Footage from Metro TV shows Syarif participating in demonstrations agai
nst the Ahmadiyah, banging on a vehicle holding the prosecutor and the blasphemy
suspect, and attacking a police barricade at Manis Lor village.
“President Yudhoyono should rein in Islamist militants before they claim more live
s, and that starts with revoking policies that promote religious intolerance,” Pea
rson said. “The government should be aggressively prosecuting all those responsibl
e for scores of attacks against religious minorities in recent years.”
In a positive development, on February 16, the Nahdlatul Ulama, an independent I
slamic organization, released a statement calling on all Muslims to respect the
law and avoid religious violence.
Established in Indonesia in the 1920s, the Nahdlatul Ulama is one of the largest
Islamic organizations worldwide. The statement says that “differences of religion
and belief cannot be a justification to commit violent or arbitrary acts,” and ur
ges the government “seriously fulfill its constitutional obligation to enforce the
law and provide protection to all citizens regardless of religion or belief.”
“A major Muslim organization is telling the government to get serious about ending
religious violence and protecting Indonesians of all beliefs,” Pearson said. “The g
overnment needs to start listening and taking action to prevent future crimes ag
ainst minorities like the Cikeusik killings and Cirebon bombing.”