Sampang Shiites still face
pressure to convert: Amnesty

The displaced Shiite community in East Java continues to face pressure to convert to "true" Islam if they wish to return to their homes in Sampang district on Madura island, human rights group Amnesty International (AI) has said.

Credible local sources told AI that the authorities have given the villagers until March to convert to Sunni Islam, the predominant faith in Indonesia, if they want to go back to their village, the rights group said in a press statement sent to The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

"The Indonesian authorities must guarantee the safe, voluntary and dignified return of the Shiite community to their homes, according to their wishes, and help them to rebuild the homes that were damaged or destroyed," said Isabelle Arradon of AI's Asia Pacific Program.

An estimated 165 Shia Muslims, including 48 children, have been living in substandard conditions at a sports complex in Sampang district on Madura Island since August 2012. They were forced to leave their village following an attack from intolerant groups.

Arradon urged the government to end discrimination against religious minorities in the country and investigate reports that the local and provincial authorities are coercing Shiite followers to renounce their faith before being allowed to return to their homes.

"Those involved in the attack on the Shiite community in August must also be brought to justice in proceedings that meet international standards of fairness, without the imposition of the death penalty," Arradon added.

The refugees' condition continues to deteriorate after the East Java Police withdrew officers assigned to protect the community on Jan. 1.

In late December, local authorities halted food supplies and medical services. They had previously cut off food supplies on Nov. 22, but resumed services on Dec. 4. Some of the children in the shelter, meanwhile, have fallen sick over the last few weeks, AI reported.

"The Indonesian authorities must ensure that the community is granted immediate access to essential services such as food and health services. In particular, more needs to be done to ensure that children who are currently unwell get access to adequate medical care," Arradon said. (lfr)

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