Religious and human rights organisations have condemned a “mob” attack on a mosque belonging to the minority Ahmadiyah community in Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia and have called on the government to take concrete action against intolerance and religious violence.
On September 3, a group calling itself Aliansi Umat Islam attacked Miftahul Huda mosque weeks after it was closed by the local government, leaving the building damaged and a shed behind it in flames.
In a widely circulated video, dozens of people use stones, bamboo sticks and sledge hammers to break windows and tear apart the mosque and the nearby shed, while some 300 police and Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel stand by passively.
“You said it would be safe,” the man filming the video says to the officers. “Who should be responsible for this? Imagine your house being torched by a mob.”
After the incident, local media reported that 72 local members of the Ahmadiyah community were being “guarded to ensure safety”.
It was the latest attack against one of the country’s most persecuted religious minorities.
For years, authorities and communities in Indonesia have discriminated against followers of the heterodox Ahmadiyah movement. Their members have, at times, been prohibited from building mosques and been driven out of their homes.
Amnesty International Indonesia condemned local authorities for failing to protect the Ahmadis from the mob, calling the attack a “barbaric act”.
Its executive director Usman Hamid said: “The authorities should guarantee the right of the Ahmadiyah community to worship according to their religion and beliefs and should protect them from unlawful acts.
“Why didn’t the security forces who were at the location stop the destruction and burning carried out by the mob?”
The government-sanctioned National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) also denounced the attack, calling it unlawful.
“The incident has clearly violated basic human rights, particularly the right to worship according to one’s beliefs and the right to feel safe,” said commissioner Beka Ulung Hapsara in a statement on September 3.
The commission also noted that the attack was not an isolated incident, as authorities from the Sintang Regional Leadership Communication Forum (Forkopimda) had taken a number of repressive actions leading up to the incident.
The Setara Institute, which advocates for democracy and human rights, said the local government’s “submission to intolerant groups” was one of the factors that had led to the attack.
It also noted that local officials had entertained the demands of such groups to win political support.
“In the beginning, the local administration [of Sintang] submitted to issuing a decree banning Ahmadiyah at the demand of intolerant groups,” Setara wrote.
Yendra Budiana, a spokesperson for the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI), told the Jakarta Post that the regency had temporarily closed the Miftahul Huda mosque after Aliansi Umat Islam gave an ultimatum to the Sintang administration on August 13 to “take firm action” against the Ahmadis.
“The group threatened to take action on their own if the demands were not fulfilled,” Yendra said.
In response to the threat, the representatives of the local Ahmadiyah group sought protection from the regional police.
On August 27, the Sintang regent issued a letter closing the mosque permanently. The letter was given to JAI representatives at an August 31 meeting held without the presence of either the regent or his deputy.
“JAI representatives were not allowed to even speak at the meeting,” said Yendra.
Interfaith community Jaringan Gusdurian called the Sintang administration’s permanent closure of the Ahmadiyah mosque a violation of the Constitution.
“We urge the Sintang administration to facilitate the protection of Ahmadiyah residents so that they can worship safely and comfortably,” Alissa Wahid of Jaringan Gusdurian said.
Minister of Religious Affairs Yaqut Cholil Quomas denounced the incident and described it as a threat to religious harmony.
“Authorities need to take decisive action deemed necessary to prevent and overcome vigilantism,” Yaqut said.
“Proceed legally. The perpetrators must be held accountable for their actions before the law, for the sake of justice and legal certainty,” he said.
When Yaqut assumed office in 2020, he promised to uphold the rights of Shia and Ahmadiyah, minority Muslim groups in Indonesia, and to work to prevent their persecution.
Yaqut, who is also the chairman of GP Ansor – the youth wing of the country’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) – said that he would facilitate dialogue among various religious groups to bridge differences.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Yendra of the JAI said. “We need real action on the government’s part to ensure the right of every citizen to worship.”
Following Yaqut’s condemnation of the incident, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD called on the Sintang regent and the regional police chief to resolve the case through legal means.
“This is a sensitive issue. Everyone must exercise restraint. We live in the Unitary Republic of Indonesia, where human rights are protected by the state,” he said on September 3.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK