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Rights Groups Condemn Indonesia's Restrictions on Muslim Sect


International and local rights groups condemned the restrictions imposed by the Indonesian government on a Muslim sect, saying the move restricts religious freedom. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins has more from Jakarta.

The international rights watchdog Human Rights Watch and the Indonesian human rights group Kontras have condemned the government's newly imposed restrictions against the moderate Muslim sect Ahmadiyah.

The decree, signed Monday night, by the home minister, the religious affairs minister and the attorney general, orders Ahmadiyah members to "stop spreading beliefs" which deviate from the principal teachings of Islam including the belief "that there is another prophet with his own teachings after Prophet Mohammad."

Violations of the decree are punishable by up to five years in jail.

Ahmadiyah followers believe Mohammad is not the last prophet - a belief that many Muslims find heretical.

On June 1, the militant Islamic Defenders Front attacked a peaceful rally for religious tolerance in Jakarta, injuring a dozen people.

Usman Hamid, the coordinator of Kontras, says the government is not taking action to protect the people's right of religious freedom, which is enshrined in the constitution.

"The government has not been able to protect citizens from violence, from prosecutions committed by hard-line groups. This is a serious, serious problem in Indonesia … we have been able to achieve several political reforms, political freedom. But the case of Ahmadiyah undermines the image of reform even more starkly because religious freedom has been attacked after 10 years of reform in Indonesia," said Usman Hamid.

Islamic Defenders Front members are known for their attacks against bars and night clubs, during the Muslim holy month, Ramadan. In recent months, members have stepped up attacks against Ahmadiyah members and their supporters.

Last week, after Indonesian President Suslio Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the violence against the rally for religious tolerance, the police arrested more than 50 front members.

But the alleged leader of the attack, Munarman, evaded arrest and has issued a video from his hideout saying he will not surrender until the government bans Ahmadiyah.

Monday, several thousands Islamic Defenders Front members, wearing white Islamic robes and skullcaps, protested outside the presidential palace, demanding the government ban Ahmadiyah.

Critics say President Yudhoyono may have allowed the restrictions against Ahmadiyah, as a compromise to appease the small-but-vocal minority hardliners while trying to preserve the country's image as a tolerant nation.

Tuesday, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on the government to protect religious minorities in the country and reverse the decree against Ahmadiyah.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, with the vast majority practicing a moderate form of the faith.

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