Open Letter to President Yudhoyono: Stand up and firm in defense of freedom of religion and Indonesia’s endangered pluralism

Press release

Open Letter to:
HE Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
President of the Republic of Indonesia

Subject: Stand up and firm in defense of freedom of religion and Indonesia’s endangered pluralism

Dear President Yudhoyono,

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) and the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial) have the honour to write to you to express our grave concern regarding the escalating intimidation and persecution of members of the Ahmadiyah sect across Indonesia. Civil society in Indonesia has documented at least 342 attacks on Ahmadiyah members between 2007 and 2010, escalating year by year. On February 6, 2011, approximately 1,500 people attacked the house of a local Ahmadiyah leader in Umbulan village in Cikeusik, Pandeglang, Banten province. The grisly assault resulted in the public lynching of three Ahmadiyah followers, a murder caught on camera. In spite of this pattern of violence over the years, the police has often failed to prevent these attacks and performed dismally in holding perpetrators to account. This utter lack of effective action and protection of a vulnerable community by the authorities is glaring, unacceptable and an abdication of the government’s responsibility to protect its own citizens.

We take note of your decision to order an investigation into the February 6 attacks and the decision by the National Police Chief to remove the Banten police chief and the Pandeglang Police chief commissioner in charge of Cikeusik subdistrict. However, these efforts in and of themselves will not be enough to address the growing intolerance and violence against minority communities.

Articles 28E and 29 of the Constitution of Indonesia guarantee the rights of citizens to freely worship and practice the religion of their choice. Furthermore, Indonesia is also obliged to respect and protect the right to freedom of religion as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Despite these obligations under domestic and international law, we deeply regret that the freedom of religion, and by extension Indonesia’s tradition of pluralism and tolerance, is in jeopardy.

The joint ministerial decree of 2008 prohibiting the Ahmadiyah from "spreading interpretations and activities that deviate from the principal teachings of Islam" is in clear violation of national and international law. The rationale that such a decree is necessary to preserve public order and protect the Ahmadiyah community from attacks is both false and self-defeating in the face of these escalating attacks. On the contrary, it provides a legal basis for further, unbridled persecution of the Ahmadiyah community by radical religious groups, as well as provincial and local authorities. A recent decree issued by the East Java Governor Soekarwo has banned the sect in the province from spreading their beliefs through any forms of media and displaying the sect’s name in public and mosques. A similar decree was issued by West Java Governor Ahmad Heriyawan on March 3, 2011. Later on the same day, South Sulawesi Governor Syahrul Yasin Limpo issued a decree banning the Ahmadiyah sect from practicing their religion publicly, invoking precisely the 2008 joint decree.

Repression of and discrimination against the Ahmadiyah sect are also tolerated or even endorsed by high-level government officials, including members of your Cabinet. The Minister of Law and Human Rights supported the decree in East Java to ban the sect. The Minister of Religious Affairs over the last several years has repeatedly called for the complete ban on the Ahmadiyah sect in Indonesia. He made such a call again three days after the deadly February 6 attacks. This demand for a total ban has been aggressively advocated by non-state actors and hard line religious groups, whose defiance and boldness are buoyed by your government’s meek and equivocal responses at best, and eagerness to appease them at worse. Failure by the authorities to effectively and promptly address the persecution of the Ahmadiyahs contributes to a dangerous environment in which violence against followers of the sect will continue and could become more systematic and widespread.

Indonesia has come a long way since Suharto and now stands at a critical juncture in its transition towards a full-pledged democracy. The international community looks to Indonesia, as the chair of ASEAN this year, to set a positive example for its fellow ASEAN Member States in upholding fundamental rights and freedoms at home. However, the progress Indonesia has made in the last decade is at risk of being rolled back by the rising and alarming intolerance that is undermining public trust and security, as well as Indonesia’s hard-won credibility abroad as a legitimate member of a global community of nations respectful of human rights. The strength of a civil, democratic country is measured by the degree and extent to which its government is willing and able to protect its minorities, so that all are treated equal before the law and their fundamental freedoms and rights are respected, regardless of any distinction, including their religion.

Therefore, FIDH, KontraS and Imparsial respectfully urge you to:

* Respect the provisions on minorities’ rights provided in the Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Indonesia is a party;

* Revoke the joint ministerial decree of 2008 and urge provincial and local authorities to do the same with their bans on the Ahmadiyah;

* Ensure your Cabinet presents a public and uniform stance against any kind of discrimination, intimidation and violence against minority groups, and publicly and clearly rebuff any demands to ban the Ahmadiyah sect;

* Instruct the police at all levels to increase protection of religious and other minorities and ensure mechanisms are in place to prevent attacks on their communities and places of worship;

* Ensure effective and impartial investigations into all violent actions against and systematic persecutions of minorities and that perpetrators will be brought to justice in a court of law; and

* Invite the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and the UN Independent Expert on minority issues to visit Indonesia.

We thank you for your consideration of our deep concerns and recommendations.

Sincerely yours,

Souhayr Belhassen
President, FIDH

Haris Azhar
Executive Coordinator, KontraS

Poengki Indarti
Executive Director, Imparsial

Copied to:

HE Mr. Patrialis Akbar, Minister, Ministry of Law and Human Rights

HE Mr. Suryadharma Ali, Minister, Ministry of Religious Affairs

Gen. Timur Pradopo, National Chief of Police of Indonesia

Mr. Ifdhal Kasim, Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM)

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