In a verdict that was blasted by human rights advocates and the global community as a blow to religious freedom, a Banten court gave a slap on the wrist to 12 people involved in killing three Ahmadis in Cikeusik the Feb. 6.
The Serang District Court sentenced the 12 defendants on Thursday to between three and six months in jail for “inciting hatred” against the minority Ahmadis.
The 10 defendants, including cleric Ujang Muhammad Arif, who allegedly incited the attack on the Ahmadis, were sentenced to six months in jail. One defendant, Idis bin Mahdani, was sentenced to five months and 15 days in prison, while juvenile defendant Dani bin Misra was sentenced to three months in prison.
They were cleared of all other charges, which included illegal possession of sharp weapons, destruction of property, mistreatment of others, participating in an assault, involvement in an attack and attacking others and causing serious injury or death.
Presiding judge Cipta Sinuraya was quoted by republika.co.id as saying that the deadly attack was actually provoked by the Ahmadis. He said that the 12 defendants deserved light sentences because they showed deep regret for their actions.
The controversial verdict, which is slightly lighter than the prosecutors’ demands, has triggered a storm of criticism from human rights defenders and the international community including the United States and the European Union.
Human Rights Watch says the light sentences “reflect the authorities’ weak efforts to prosecute the case”.
Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, says the trial sends “the chilling message that attacks on minorities like the Ahmadiyah will be treated lightly by the legal system”.
The US said in a statement that it was disappointed by “the disproportionately light sentences” and called on Indonesia to “defend its tradition of tolerance for all religions”.
The EU also joined the criticism, saying that it shared the concerns “voiced by many Indonesians that sentences imposed for violent crimes against religious or other minorities should always be commensurate with the gravity of the crimes committed”.
The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) focused its criticism on the weak charges brought against the defendants. Elsam director Indriaswati Dyah Saptaningrum said the killing was no ordinary crime. “Three people were killed during the riot. We should not charge the defendants only with public incitement.”
This is not the first time that radicals committing religious violence were found guilty of only public incitement.
In June, Syihabuddin was sentenced to one year in prison for inciting a riot in Temanggung that led to the burning of three churches. In 2008, Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab was sentenced to 18 months in prison by the Central Jakarta District Court for inciting hatred and instigating violence against participants of a peace rally at the National Monument (Monas).
Unlike the Cikeusik riot, there were no fatalities in the Temanggung and Monas incidents.
Dyah said the Ciekusik trial should be seen as a warning to minorities that the judiciary might not save them from persecution. “The judiciary is powerless to punish radical groups that assault minorities.”
The defendants’ lawyer from the Muslim Defense Team (TPM), Mahendradatta, said his clients cannot be blamed for the attack on the Ahmadis. “The Ahmadis started the riot. That’s clear,” he said.
“So many people get [the defendants] wrong. I think this is another form of human rights violation against my clients,” he added.
He said his team agreed that the investigation should find the people behind the riot, but he refused to say his clients were responsible for killing the three Ahmadis. “I agree that we should find the masterminds, but who are they?”