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Sampang Shia ask UN commissioner
for help

Members of the Shia community from Sampang, Madura, East Java, who have suffered religious persecution, called on the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights Navanethem Pillay to address their plight — including the latest mass religious conversion that had been forced upon them by Sunni clerics.

Umi Kulsum, the wife of Shiite leader Tajul Muluk who was sent to jail for blasphemy in July, is among vocal Shiite who have urged Pillay to put pressure on the Indonesian government to comply with universal human rights standards.

“It’s been three months since they torched our homes and forced us to live in uncertainty. Not only has the government done nothing to restore our rights, it has even assisted the majority Sunni community to force us to convert to their faith — so that they won’t attack us in the future!” Umi said in a press briefing arranged by the Human Rights Working Group’s (HRWG) headquarters in Central Jakarta on Monday.

Umi and representatives from Sampang’s Shia community, members of the Taman Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church (GKI), members of Filadelfia Church from Bekasi and members of the Ahmadiyah community held a meeting with Pillay on Sunday to air their grievances.

Umi said that several Sunni leaders in Sampang, East Java, continued to intimidate members of the Shia community who are currently taking shelter at a local sports stadium. The displaced Shia took refuge in the stadium after their compound was attacked in August. Two people died in the incident and dozens of homes were destroyed.

“Backed by government officials, these kyais [religious leaders] put pressure on us to convert to Sunni otherwise they would not allow my family and I to return to our village,” Umi said.

Umi said that she and some of her fellow Shia followers would not submit to the pressure.

“Please, let us freely practice our faith,” she said, holding back tears.

The Surabaya office of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) previously reported that 26 Shiites from nine families were forced to sign an agreement to convert to Sunni on Nov. 1. According to Umi, the 26 individuals finally gave up their faith because of threats of murder.

Contacted separately, Kontras Surabaya coordinator Andy Irfan said that converting to Sunni was the primary condition before the Shiites were allowed to return to their home village.

Andy said that the Sunni majority could not impose their will unless they won backing from the local
government.

“The majority does not have the courage to impose on their will on the minority unless they have the go-ahead from the local government to do so,” he said.

Chairman of Sampang’s Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) Buchori Maksum denied the allegation of forced conversion.

“It’s not true that the ulama in Sampang have forced the Shiites to convert to Sunni. The Shiites converted to Sunni of their own choice because they have realized that Sunni is the true teaching of Islam. They have found the true path,” Buchori told the Post.

Buchori also denied allegations that local Sunni clerics made efforts to bar the Shiite refugees from returning to their home village.

“I tell you that the MUI or local religious leaders never prohibited the Shiites from returning to their village. It’s the locals who have not allowed them to do so. I can understand their [actions],” he said.

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