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Rights Group Criticizes Indonesian Muslim Group Sentence

  • Brian Padden

Indonesian Muslims who are on trial for their involvement in a fatal attack against followers of a minority Islamic sect earlier this year wait for the start of the hearing at a district court in Serang, Banten province, Indonesia, July 28, 2011

Indonesian Muslims who are on trial for their involvement in a fatal attack against followers of a minority Islamic sect earlier this year wait for the start of the hearing at a district court in Serang, Banten province, Indonesia, July 28, 2011

An Indonesian court has sentenced a group of Muslim extremists involved in a deadly mob attack on members of the Ahmadiyah Muslim minority sect to several months in jail. Human rights groups are criticizing Thursday’s ruling for falling far short of the maximum penalty and say it will encourage more violence against religious minorities.

The court convicted 12 people for involvement in a February attack on about 20 members of an Ahmadiyah sect in western Java. Those convicted received sentences between three to six months in jail.

Caught on tape

The attack became the focus of international attention after Human Rights Watch obtained a video showing a crowd of about 1,000 protesters surrounding a house they claimed was being used as an Ahmadiyah house of worship. The crowd started throwing rocks, then pursuing and beating the Ahmadiyah members. Three people were killed.

The Ahmadiyah sect, which is believed to have 200,000 followers across the country, considers itself Muslim. But in Indonesia and in some other Muslim countries they are not accepted by mainstream Islam because they do not believe the Prophet Muhammad was the final prophet. In 2008, the Indonesian government officially banned the group from spreading its faith.

Following the killings, international human rights groups condemned the violence and Indonesian officials promised a full investigation.

No murder charge

But, after the court sentences were announced Thursday, Human Rights Watch Deputy Director for Asia Phil Robertson criticized Indonesian prosecutors who did not charge anyone involved in the attacks with murder.

“Well the prosecutors in the trial said they were asking for sentences only up to seven months because they claim the Ahmadiyah members provoked the attack," said Robertson. "In fact that is not the case. Unless you say the existence of people who call themselves Ahmadiyah is a provocation, which is a strange way of calling intolerance and religious persecution.”

Chilling message

He says the relatively light sentences send a chilling message that will encourage religious extremist groups to take the law into their own hands.

“I think what it does is actually give a green light to other extremists that they can attack Ahmadiyah congregations," he said. "They can attack religious minorities and they will get away with just a slap on the wrist.”

In the past few years, there have been an increasing number of attacks on religious minorities in Indonesia. The Setara Institute, a nongovernmental group that monitors religious freedom, says violent incidents against Ahmadiyah have gone from three in 2006 to 50 in 2010.

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