By Thin Lei Win
BANGKOK (AlertNet) – “They held my hands and cut my belt with a machete. They cut my shirt, pants and undershirt ... They tried to take off my underwear and cut my penis ... I tried to protect my face, but my left eye was stabbed.”
These are the words of a 25-year-old student in West Java, one of a group attacked in February 2011 by 1,500 Islamist militants for being followers of the minority Ahmadiyah sect, which mainstream Muslims in Indonesia consider heretical.
The mass attack, which left three dead and five seriously injured, was caught on film – police officers were shown watching – but only 12 men were charged, none for manslaughter. One Ahmadi injured in the attack was himself convicted of assault and disobeying police orders.
The attack “is part of a growing trend of religious intolerance and violence in Indonesia,” the world’s most populous Muslim country, said a Human Rights Watch report released Thursday, urging President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy towards attacks against religious minorities.
The report, based on interviews in 10 provinces, documents attacks on houses of worship and members of religious minorities, and the authorities’ failure to confront militant groups like the Islamic People’s Forum and Islamic Defenders Front.
“The government has shown a deadly indifference to the growing plight of Indonesia’s religious minorities, who reasonably expect their government’s protection,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in a statement.
Earlier this year, two church officials in West Java suffered a violent attack and one of them has been jailed for conducting services without a permit. In another incident assailants threw homemade Molotov cocktails at two churches in south Sulawesi.
The Jakarta-based Setara Institute, which monitors religious freedom in Indonesia, recorded 216 violent attacks on religious minorities in 2010, 244 in 2011 and 264 in 2012, the New York-based rights group said.
Those targeted include Ahmadiyahs, Christians, and Shia Muslims.
In most attacks, “the perpetrators of the intimidation and violence have been Sunni militant groups … at times acting with the tacit, or occasionally open, support of government officials and police”, said HRW.
“In addition to intimidation and physical assaults, houses of worship have been closed, construction of new worship facilities halted, and adherents of minority faiths subjected to arbitrary arrest on blasphemy and other charges,” the report said.
“Such actions are in part made possible by discriminatory laws and regulations, including a blasphemy law that officially recognizes only six religions, and house of worship decrees that give local majority populations significant leverage over religious minority communities,” it added.
Police are often unwilling to investigate reports of violence against religious minorities properly, while local officials responded to acts of arson and other violence by blaming the victims, it said.
National officials have also failed to speak out in defence of religious minorities. Instead, the minister of religion, Suryadharma Ali, called for Ahmadiyah to be disbanded and proposed that Shi-ite Muslims convert to Sunni Islam.
He was not reprimanded for either comment, HRW said.