After a year spent living in a refugee camp, members of the Shia community in Sampang, Madura, East Java, will soon become pariahs in their own land after the local administration decided to evict them permanently from the area.
Sampang Regent Fannan Hasib said on Tuesday that the local administration would only need the go-ahead from East Java Governor Soekarwo to relocate members of the Shia community to locations outside of Sampang, despite the minority group's rejections.
'We can do nothing about it because the majority of the people demand the Shia community be kicked out of Sampang. Local religious leaders have also supported the demand. I will soon file a request to Governor Soekarwo to issue an ordinance to make it legal for us to relocate them,' Fannan told The Jakarta Post.
Fannan said the local administration had to make the decision as the central government had been silent on the issue.
'I've asked the Presidential Advisory Council and Komnas HAM [the National Commission on Human Rights] to discuss this issue in a transparent manner with the House of Representatives but unfortunately we've heard nothing back from them,' he said.
Last year, during his reelection campaign, he told residents of Sampang and local religious leaders that he supported the relocation of members of the Shia community.
He even agreed to sign a pact to implement the plan at a later date.
Soon after being reelected for a second term in February this year, Fannan declined to allow members of the Shia community ' who were seeking refuge in a sports stadium following unrest in August 2012 ' to return to their village in Nangkernang, saying that his administration could not guarantee their safety, and instead asked for their consent regarding the relocation.
Members of the Shia minority have been living in the sports stadium for nearly two years following violence that killed two Shiites.
At the height of the violence, the mob also set fire to dozens of houses belonging to Shiites in Nangkernang hamlet.
In recent weeks, members of the Sunni majority have staged rallies demanding that Fannan fulfill his campaign promise to not allow members of the Shia community to return to their home village.
The Sampang administration's firm decision to evict the Shia will further plunge their lives into uncertainty following the Witness and Victim Protection Agency's ( LPSK ) decision to stop its protection program for witnesses and victims of attacks against the community.
The LPSK officially terminated the program on Tuesday.
LPSK member Teguh Soedarsono said the decision to finally discontinue the protection program for 44 members of the community, who had testified about the attacks in courts and who had been subject to intimidation, was made after Governor Soekarwo agreed to allow the Shia refugees to return to their villages.
Teguh said the provincial government had also agreed to deploy security personnel to ensure that members of the Shia community would safely resettle in their homes.
'The LPSK has no authority over what appears to be a disconnect between the Sampang administration and the provincial government. We can't change our decision abruptly,' Teguh told the Post.
Komnas HAM commissioner Imdadun Rahmat, who is in charge of an investigation team into the aftermath of the August 26 riot in Sampang, said the rights body would continue its efforts to persuade the majority Sunni community to welcome back its Shia neighbors.
'No one should be forced to leave their land of origin. We will send a reprimand to the local administrations to demand that it provide equal protection to people regardless of their differences in religious interpretation,' Imdadun said.
Meanwhile, earlier on Tuesday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono held a Cabinet meeting to discuss efforts to mitigate rampant religious conflicts.
The meeting wrapped up with Yudhoyono ordering ministers and local government leaders to uphold the controversial joint-ministerial decrees on the construction of places of worship and on the Ahmadiyah.
'Ensuring the enforcement of the joint ministerial decrees is one of the most important measures for handling religious conflicts. This kind of approach is the most moderate option we have today and it can accommodate views of all different groups so conflicts and acts of intolerance can be prevented,' said Coordinating People's Welfare Minister Agung Laksono.
In his opening remarks at the meeting, Yudhoyono said it was local administrations that were at the forefront of preventing religious conflicts.
'The government, of course, does not stay silent. We work together to resolve the problems as thoroughly as possible, to prevent a repeat of the conflicts in the future,' he said.
Dec. 29, 201: A Shia Islamic boarding school ( pesantren ) in Karang Gayam village on Madura Island in Sampang, East Java, is set ablaze as a mob attacks the home of a Shia Muslum in nearby Gadhing Laok. Three-hundred Shiites take refuge at the regency's indoor tennis court, some 20 kilometers from their home villages.
August 26, 2012: Two die as a mob of a 1,000 Sunni Muslims raze the predominantly Shiite villages Blu'uran and Karang Gayam, destroying 37 homes and displacing 270.
Sept. 21, 2012: The East Java High Court sentences Madurese Shia leader Tajul Muluk to four years' imprisonment for blasphemy. Nov. 1, 2012: Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence ( Kontras ) reports that 26 of the Shia tennis court refugees were forced to sign statements saying that they were willing to convert to Sunni Islam.
Nov. 25, 2012: Shiite leader Iklil Al Milal says the local administration offered no reason for stopping to supply refugees from Karang Gayam village with food and clean water.
April 4, 2013: Prosecutors ask the Surabaya District Court for a two-year sentence for Rois Al-Hukama for his role in attacking the Shiites.
April 16, 2013: Surabaya District Court acquits Rois Al-Hukama.
May 1, 2013: The Shiite tennis court refuges struggle to survive after the local administration stopped supplying their daily needs as May 1 citing 'budget constraints'.