Bogor. Over 1,000 Muslim hard-liners surrounded a district court in Bogor on Wednesday, demanding the immediate release of three youths standing trial for an attack on an Ahmadiyah community last year.
Dede Novi, 18, Aldi Afriansyah, 23, and Akbar Ramanda, 17, are accused of destroying property and inciting violence during an October riot in Cisalada village, according to indictment documents.
The three were said to be part of a mob that burned down houses, schools and a mosque at the Bogor village, home to 600 members of the Ahmadiyah, a minority Islamic sect deemed deviant by mainstream Muslims for their different beliefs on the Prophet Muhammad.
The crowds that came out in support of the defendants on Wednesday, however, slammed these accusations.
Though police had barred them from entering the courtroom, the protesters reportedly “became incensed” when the defendants’ lawyer told them about a witness who said Dede had set the At-Taufiq Mosque and an Ahmadiyah Koran on fire.
Ari Saputra, a resident in Cisalada, testified on Wednesday that Dede could have thrown a Molotov cocktail at the mosque.
“I cannot be sure that he really was the one who threw the Molotov cocktail, but I saw that he was part of the group,” Ari told the court, led by Judge Astriwati.
Dede, however, denied throwing the fire bomb, but admitted at the hearing that he was part of the group which set the village mosque on fire.
A second witness, Mubarik Ahmad, a Cisalada resident and an Ahmadi, said he saw the three defendants break into and torch the mosque.
“I saw them. They were among hundreds who came to our village that night and attacked. They were brutal,” Mubarik said. “They threw stones at the mosque, broke its windows and set it on fire. Others came on motorbikes and made noises with their horns.
“They burned and destroyed so much property in our village,” he added. “That evening, our only concern was how to stay alive.”
After being informed of Mubarik’s statements, the angry crowds outside the courtroom began to yell out that the witness was a liar.
Protesters also tried to attack Mubarik as he left the courtroom under tight police guard.
Amid Wednesday’s unrest, hundreds of security personnel were deployed to Cisalada and the Cibinong District Court, where the trial was held.
The three defendants are accused of violating the Criminal Code, particularly Article 406 on the destruction of property and Article 170 on assault.
Article 406 carries a maximum sentence of two years and eight months in jail, while Article 170 carries a punishment of up to five years and six months.
Agus Sulaiman, one of the protesters, said the people of Bogor would “never accept the presence of the Ahmadiyah.”
“What is worse is that they built an Ahmadiyah information center in our village,” said Agus, a resident of Ciampea subdistrict.
“If they don’t stop this, we will stop them. We will burn their properties,” he said. “They call themselves followers of Islam. This is what we cannot accept.”
Agus said many conservative Muslims in the area detested the sect for believing that Ahmadiyah founder Mirza Gulam Ahmad was the last prophet.
This runs counter to mainstream Islamic beliefs which reserve that distinction for the Prophet Muhammad.