The Jakarta Post
Rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on the government to immediately intervene to protect members of the Ahmadiyah religious community from intimidation and threats of expulsion by local authorities on Bangka Island.
HRW made the statement after it obtained a copy of a letter issued on Jan. 5 by the local administration of Bangka regency, located off the east coast of Sumatra in Bangka-Belitung Islands province, which demanded Ahmadiyah followers on the island either convert to Sunni Islam or face expulsion from Bangka.
'Bangka officials are conspiring with Muslim groups to unlawfully expel Ahmadiyah community members from their homes,' HRW's Asia deputy director Phelim Kine said in a statement on Monday.
'President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo needs to immediately intervene to uphold the Ahmadiyah's rights and to punish officials who advocate religious discrimination.'
The letter was signed by Bangka administration secretary Fery Insani. It stated: 'If the board of the Ahmadiyah community does not return to Islam, we have agreed that the board should leave Bangka and go back to where they belong.' The letter stated that the directive was written on behalf of Bangka Regent Tarmizi Saat.
HRW said members of Bangka's Ahmadiyah community, which consists of only 14 families, told the group that the expulsion order followed months of harassment and intimidation by government officials, police officers and representatives of Muslim groups. Some Muslims perceive the Ahmadiyah as heretics because followers identify themselves as Muslims, but differ from other Muslims who believe that Muhammad was the 'final' monotheist prophet.
Articles 28 and 29 of the Constitution guarantee freedom of religion. Prohibitions on the Ahmadiyah practicing their religion also violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Indonesia in 2006. Article 18 of the covenant protects the right to freedom of religion and to engage in religious practice 'either individually or in community with others and in public or private'. Article 27 also protects the rights of minorities 'to profess and practice their own religion'.
When he took office in October 2014, President Jokowi pledged to protect religious minorities and fight against religious intolerance.
'President Jokowi should demonstrate his opposition to religious discrimination by standing on the side of Bangka Island's Ahmadiyah community and acting against those officials trying to deprive them of their rights,' Kine said.
'Jokowi has an opportunity to prove that the [former president Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyono era of turning a blind eye to attacks on religious minorities is finally over.' (ebf)(+)