Twelve rights groups on Monday called on the government to reopen an Ahmadiyah orphanage that had been kept shut for weeks by law enforcers.
Ilma Sovri Yanti, a national advocacy officer for SOS Children’s Villages Indonesia, urged the authorities to reopen the Khasanah Kautsar Orphanage, which is operated by the minority Ahmadiyah community in Kawalu subdistrict in Tasikmalaya, West Java.
Its closure, Ilma said, was a violation of the children’s rights. The orphanage was locked up, with the children and staff still inside, by the subdistrict police chief and prosecutor on Dec. 18. Officials argued that the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) would otherwise have come to close it down.
“We sent a statement to the Tasikmalaya prosecutor’s office and also to the regional secretary on Sunday night regarding the violation of the children’s rights by locking the orphanage’s gate from the outside,” Ilma said.
SOS Children’s Villages is one of 12 nongovernmental organizations lobbying the district government to reopen the orphanage. Among the other groups are the Maarif Institute, Wahid Institute, Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) and Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI).
Ilma said the NGOs would request a public meeting with the government to find an alternative solution for the orphans if the Tasikmalaya authorities failed to respond by next week.
Members of the Ahmadiyah community have been the target of repeated, often violent attacks in the past few years from hard-line Muslim groups mostly in West Java and West Nusa Tenggara.
Rights activists have blamed the country’s highest authority on Islamic affairs, the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), for declaring Ahmadiyah a deviant Islamic sect, therefore encouraging violence against its followers. The government also recently banned the sect from worshiping in public and from proselytizing.
Speaking on behalf of the NGOs, the national director of SOS Children’s Villages, Gregor Hadi Nitihardjo, called on the government to remove the locks on the orphanage, guarantee the children’s security and assure a conducive environment for the children be integrated into society.
He said shutting down the orphanage had caused fear, mental trauma and physical danger for the children, who now climb a three-meter wall every day to go to school or get supplies.
Sopwatur Rohman, an 18-year-old boy who has spent the past 20 days at the orphanage, said he was afraid and wondered why the government had locked them inside.
“We live in fear because officials often come to check on the lock,” he said. “People also drive by sometimes to yell at us.”
Seto Mulyadi, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak), said children should not be dragged into adult conflicts.
“The locking up of the children inside the orphanage has taken away the right of the children to have a comfortable place to live, to get an education and also to have the freedom of religion or belief,” he said.
Seto said he would meet with the head of the FPI, Rizieq Shihab, and the leader of the FPI’s Tasikmalaya chapter to find a solution that will spare the chil dren.