Amnesty International called on the government on Wednesday to revoke the decree that bans Ahmadiyah members from proselytizing, saying the regulation was one of the primary causes for an increase in religious violence in the country.
Saman Zia-Zarifi, director of the Asia-Pacific program at the Amnesty International, said the time had come for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to get serious about tackling religious violence in the country.
“I had an open and frank discussion with the National Police chief, Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhammadiyah and church groups in Indonesia,” Saman said. “We urge Indonesia to fulfill its obligation to protect its citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, in line with the Indonesian Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“The 2008 joint ministerial decree needs to be revoked. The country should not intervene in people’s religious choices.”
The police, Saman added, needed to publicly reiterate their commitment to protecting the rights of all Indonesians, regardless of their religious beliefs.
“The Indonesian police must ensure the trials of those who commit violence in the name of religion are free from intimidation toward victims, witnesses and their lawyers,” he said.
Last month, the Religious Affairs Ministry held a national dialog on the minority Islamic sect, where the 2008 joint ministerial decree featured in discussions.
The Indonesia Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI) declined to attend the event. They complained they had too little time to prepare and only received four seats at the conference.
The results of the dialog are expected to be used by the government to decide on the fate of the sect and the controversial 2008 decree.
Meanwhile, a regional leader of one of the groups accused of leading attacks on Ahmadiyah followers, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), said he did not condone violence against the group.
“Ahmadis are human beings. They have families,” Bambang Teddy, head of the FPI in Yogyakarta, said on Tuesday. “The way to diminish the influence of Ahmadiyah is not with violence.”
However, Bambang said, Yogyakarta Governor Sultan Hamengkubuwono was running out of time to issue a decree banning the activities of Ahmadiyah in the province. As a special region, Bambang said, the sultan should be able to make a decision independent of the central government.
If the sultan did not respond soon, he said, the local branches of the FPI would coordinate with FPI headquarters, led by Habib Rizieq, who has previously advocated violence against the sect.
“I’m worried that a war could break out against Ahmadiah in Yogya. I don’t want Yogya to be unsafe,” Bambang said.