For Immediate Release: February 8, 2011
Human Rights First condemns the latest outbreaks of mob violence in Indonesia. “The Indonesian government must act quickly to stem the religiously motivated violence breaking out across the nation and hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions,” said Pamela Takiff. “Such attacks reflect a pattern of societal violence directed at members of minority faiths.”
“When President Obama visited Indonesia in November 2010, he spoke of Indonesia’s “spirit” of inclusiveness and the universal value of being able to practice one’s “faith without fear or restriction,” Continued Takiff. “The government of Indonesia must now demonstrate its commitment to such values.”
On Sunday, February 6, while twenty Ahmadiyya Muslims congregated in a safe house, a mob composed of hundreds of their fellow-villagers, armed with machetes and sticks, attacked innocent worshippers. Undeterred by the police, the mob killed four and wounded half a dozen others in the ensuing violence. The Ahmadiyah faith is not recognized as one of the six official religions of Indonesia.
Only two days later, hundreds of protestors calling for a death sentence stormed the District Court in Temanggung, setting two churches, a police truck and other vehicles on fire, after a Christian man from Jakarta, found guilty of blasphemy, received what extremists believed to be a lenient sentence. Nine people were injured.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has condemned the attacks and ordered legal actions to be taken against the perpetrators. These are important first steps. However, the government has a poor track record in holding the perpetrators of mob violence accountable, and senior officials should ensure that there are credible investigations and prosecutions of these incidents. Moreover, the Indonesian government should reexamine its laws and regulations that may discriminate against members of minority faiths or impinge on freedom of conscience and religion – such as the law on blasphemy and the 2008 joint ministerial decree (199/2008) which imposes criminal sanctions of up to 5 years to prevent the Ahmadiyah from promoting their practices and effectively bans them from freely practicing their religion. These exacerbate rather than resolve tensions between religious communities and contribute to the climate of hostility in which these violent incidents occur.
Human Rights First’s concern that blasphemy laws can lead to such violence lies at the core of our efforts to oppose “blasphemy laws.” In a recent report, Human Rights First has documented more than fifty cases from fifteen countries – including several from Indonesia – which demonstrate the gross abuse of national laws that criminalize the defamation of religions and enable governments to target individuals for the peaceful expression of political or religious views.
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