Gafatar ban seen as a setback
The Jakarta Post
Claiming to have won the support of mainstream religious and social organizations in the country, the government has decided to officially ban the controversial Fajar Nusantara Movement (Gafatar), a move that had been anticipated but condemned by many as a setback to the country's commitment to protecting minorities and tolerating diversity.
The Attorney General's Office (AGO), Home Ministry and Religious Affairs Ministry have issued a joint decree, the SKB No. 93/2016, to prevent ex-Gafatar members from spreading the movement's doctrine that is deemed to deviate from Islamic teachings.
'If we let it go on, Gafatar could potentially cause public unrest and trigger various other sensitive issues. So I hope all parties understand that this for the sake of maintaining religious harmony,' Attorney General HM Prasetyo told a media conference on Thursday.
The decree comes with a maximum of five years imprisonment for any violation. It also stipulates charges for members of the public who attack former Gafatar members.
Gafatar adopts the theological teachings of Millah Abraham and is a metamorphosis of Al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah, which was banned in 2007.
In February, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) released an edict declaring the movement heretical for trying to combine the teachings of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism and declaring Ahmad Mussadeq, founder of the banned Al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah, a prophet.
Ahmad himself was sentenced to four years in jail in 2008.
Gafatar came into the spotlight early this year, when newspapers in Jakarta and Yogyakarta reported that several missing persons had joined the group. Human rights activists condemned the local media coverage as one sided and biased with an intent to stir up hatred of Gafatar.
Some 11,000 of an estimated 55,000 members nationwide had moved to Kalimantan to run communal and self-sufficient farms since August. Most members were homeless or sold all their assets prior to moving to Kalimantan.
In mid-January, a violent mob attacked one of their farms in Mempawah, West Kalimantan, and intimidated other members in East Kalimantan, forcing them to return to their hometowns and abandon the farms worth Rp 30.4 billion (US$2.3 million). The government has said that it is currently processing compensation claims, but has not provided any time frame.
A former Gafatar member, who asked to remain anonymous, defended Gafatar's teachings, saying they do not promote exclusivity as members also mingle with locals.
To date, almost 8,000 of the 11,000 have been returned home via various evacuation centers in Java.
'The biggest resistance we face is in Yogyakarta and East Java, where police still come to houses to do checkups. Some landlords cancel rental properties, knowing we're ex-Gafatar,' the former member said.
Human rights activists have lambasted the government for the decision, calling the move a step backward, amid persistent intolerance toward other minorities, such as Shia in Aceh and East Java and Ahmadiyah nationwide.
'The ban on Gafatar is another setback for religious freedom in Indonesia. The legal framework is similar to the 2008 decree issued against Ahmadiyah. I am afraid the anti-Gafatar decree will also trigger new waves of discrimination, intimidation and possibly violence against Gafatar members,' said Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch.
'How can you prosecute something that's in people's minds? How do you deem one teaching as heretical and impose criminal charges on its believers? Criminal law is applied when we can calculate material losses,' coordinator of Kontras human rights watchdog Harris Azhar said.
The Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) and Muhammadiyah oppose the move.
'This is not a country based on religion. They don't have to fuss over religious affairs,' said PGI's consideration board chair Andreas Yewangoe.
Muhammadiyah's secretary general Abdul Mukti voiced the same opinion.
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