Monday, May 05, 2008

Lets help Indonesian democrats combat bigotry

Copy of a letter to the Rt Hon the Lord Malloch-Brown KCMG, Foreign Office Minister with special responsibility for human rights, and of an editorial in the Jakarta Post:

From Lord Avebury

May 4, 2008

Dear Mark,

I am dismayed to see that according to the Jakarta Post, the Ahmadiyya Muslims are to be banned by ministerial order tomorrow morning, and that President SBY has no power to stop three junior ministers from making this extremist order.

This follows some weeks of agitated discussion about the proposed ban, and attacks on Ahmadiyya mosques.

You will remember that there were earlier instances of threats and attacks on Ahmadis in Indonesia. I wrote to the then Prime Minister in July 2005 about a threatened ban at that time, copy attached for ease of reference, without receiving a reply as far as I can trace. In December 2007 I wrote twice to Meg Munn MP at the FCO, and received the attached reply saying that the EU had decided not to take any action.

I’m sure that President SBY deplores the religious intolerance of some sections of Indonesian society just as much as the Jakarta Post, but although the Post say the ball is in his court, he has been silent on the controversy as far as can be seen. Please, can we galvanise the EU into saying something about the attacks on Ahmadi mosques, and the unacceptability of the proposal to ban a peaceful and harmless religion?

Yours sincerely,

Eric Avebury

The Rt Hon the Lord Malloch-Brown KCMG,
Foreign & Commonwealth Office,
London SW1A 2AH


Editorial: Religious persecution
Fri, 04/18/2008 10:05 AM | Opinion
Here is an important announcement. Indonesia has officially stopped being the tolerant nation it has always proclaimed to be, especially when it comes to religion. The country with the world's largest Muslim population, one that has long prided itself for its diversity and peaceful coexistence between people of different faiths, is no longer a safe place, particularly for religious minorities.
Never mind what the Constitution and the state ideology Pancasila say -- that freedom of religion is guaranteed and that citizens are protected to practice their faith. Today, those are mere ornamental words. The reality on the ground is the state has started to persecute people for their religious beliefs.
On Wednesday, a government panel decided that Ahmadiyah, a Muslim sect that has its origins in India but now has followers worldwide, including in Indonesia, is heretic and contravenes the tenets of Islam. The Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs -- comprising government prosecutors, police and officials of the religious affairs and home ministries -- issued a recommendation that Ahmadiyah, as a religious organization, be banned, along with all its activities.
The ball is in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's court, being the person authorized to ban any organization. But there is real fear that before he makes his ruling, the recommendation itself will be sufficient for various vigilante groups to start attacking and harassing followers of Ahmadiyah.
Many followers of Ahmadiyah have already had to live in makeshift shelters after coming under violent attacks in recent years from vigilante groups who acted on the fatwa (religious edict) of the Indonesian Ulema Council declaring Ahmadiyah heretic. The police, whose duty it is to ensure that every religious minority is protected, did not make much of an effort to prevent the violence. Typically, they only evacuated Ahmadiyah followers to safety and then gave the thugs free reign to destroy and burn down property belonging to the group.
Now, the same vigilante groups and many others like them will be encouraged to resume their attacks. Even the police will be required to act upon a ban and start rounding up the followers of Ahmadiyah. If this is not state-sanctioned religious persecution, then we don't know what is.
No wonder the first reaction from Ahmadiyah leaders when the ban recommendation came Wednesday was to brace themselves for violent attacks and to defend themselves. They knew too that they no longer could count on the protection of the state and the police against future attacks.
What is most disturbing is the way representatives of the conservative Muslims flexed their muscles to secure the ban, at times using violent language, forcing the government to comply.
This is the first time in the republic's history that the state, which proclaims to be neither theocratic nor secular, has interfered in the substance of the religion. In the past, the state restricted its role to ensuring freedom of religion and the right for everyone to practice their faith. It leaves the question of the right or wrong of particular teachings to religious leaders. Wednesday's recommendation broke the long-held taboo and clearly shows the state siding with the Muslim conservatives by agreeing Ahmadiyah is heresy and contravenes the tenets of Islam.
This is setting a dangerous precedent, for no religion is safe now from the possibility of having its beliefs probed and judged to contravene Islam. That literally means just about every existing religion. One wonders, now that the conservative Muslims have had their way, who they will target next. They know the state will again be submissive to their will.
This is the state playing God, a dangerous game that would spell the end of the religious diversity that has always underpinned this republic. We may as well declare Indonesia an Islamic state. At least the rules of the game for the religious minorities are clear. Today, we have a government that is failing in its constitutional duty to protect the religious minorities.
It is encouraging to see that Muslim leaders from the moderate camp quickly distanced themselves from the recommendation by the government panel and denounced it as a violation of the Constitution (which, incidentally, is an impeachable offense).
Former Muhammadiyah chairman Syafii Ma'arif and leading Islamic scholar Azyumardi Azra both said the recommendation reflects the views of "extremist" elements in Islam rather than the "moderate" that continue to preach peace, tolerance and respect for religious differences.
More of them should come out of their shell and speak out about the real Islam.
If the state can no longer be counted on to defend Ahmadiyah followers, then the task should be taken up by moderate and peace-loving Muslims. They, along with leaders of religious minorities, should join hands in fighting religious extremists in our society (and apparently, in our government) and prevent this country from degenerating into a lawless state.
This republic was built upon, among other things, religious diversity and religious freedom. You take those away and you may as well forget about the republic. May God be with us.

Advisors counsel SBY against banning Ahmadiyah
Desy Nurhayati , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Wed, 04/23/2008 1:07 AM | Headlines
The Presidential Advisory Council is advising President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to cancel the issuance of a joint ministerial decree to outlaw "heretical" Islamic sect Jamaah Ahmadiyah.
A ban on Ahmadiyah would be a "bad precedent" to Indonesia's democracy and freedom of religion, council member and legal expert Adnan Buyung Nasution told a news conference after a meeting with sect leaders here Tuesday.
At the meeting, Ahmadiyah representatives were accompanied by activists from the Alliance of Religious and Belief Freedom.
"We will immediately advise the President to prevent the issuance of the decree for the sake of upholding democracy, tolerance and freedom of religion," Buyung said.
"We only have a little time to analyze the issue and meet with the President before the joint decree is issued. But we can assure that we will seriously handle this matter."
Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Widodo Adi Sucipto said last week the government would issue a joint decree based on a recommendation by the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem).
The decree is currently being drafted by the Religious Affairs Ministry, the Home Ministry and the Attorney General's Office.
Bakor Pakem recommended the government outlaw Ahmadiyah for failing to honor the 12-point declaration regarding faith and social values consistent to Islamic values after being given three months to prove its commitment.
The interdepartmental board led by the junior attorney general of intelligence said it found Ahmadiyah had continued to follow activities that deviated from mainstream Islamic teachings.
Buyung said the board and the planned joint decree had no strong legal basis, and were only serving to take repressive actions against a group of people.
"We think the establishment of the board itself has no firm legal basis even though they acted based on the 1965 law on the prevention of the misuse and disgrace of religion," he said.
Buyung was quoted by as saying all but one member of the nine-member Presidential Advisory Council opposed a ban on Ahmadiyah.
He identified the disagreeing member as Ma'ruf Amin, who is also deputy leader of the Indonesian Ulema Council that publicly declared Ahmadiyah a "heretical" Islamic sect.
Ahmadiyah spokesman Ahmad Mubarik said his group slammed the Bakor Pakem pronouncement that the sect hadn't committed to the 12-point declaration.
There should be an independent team, instead of the board, to decide whether Ahmadiyah had complied with the declaration or not, he said.
Ahmadiyah advocacy team member Lamardy said the sect demanded the President protect people in their religious beliefs.
Bakor Pakem, which was established in 1994, consists of senior officials from the Attorney General's Office, the Indonesian Military, the National Police, the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Home Ministry.
The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, which is grouped in the Alliance of Religious and Belief Freedom, urged the Attorney General's Office to dissolve the board, saying it violated people's basic rights.

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